The Costa Allegra, Triumph, Splendor, Legend, Dream: all Carnival ships now synonymous with mechanical problems, power loss, “technical issues” with backup emergency diesel generators, fires, rescues, and captain and cruise line negligence and error, respectively.
The Italian, Carnival-owned Costa Concordia has an even more grim synonym: death. Last year, on the centennial of the Titanic loss, it took 32 lives. Compared to what it could have lost, Carnival lucked out where those 32 didn’t.
According to a division of market research firm Ipsos, only about one in five people associated the Concordia disaster with Carnival, its parent company and a company that is the largest cruise company in the world.
An official report blamed the captain for making a risky maneuver that caused the ship to run aground off the Tuscan coast. He stands accused of causing a shipwreck, manslaughter and abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated. Eight others are under investigation.
Unfazed, the nonprofit CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association), North America’s largest global cruise industry organization in terms of cruise line, told the Business Journal, “Regular cruise takers know incidents such as those recently reported are unusual.”
Senior U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the senator from West Virginia and Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation in March wrote Carnival CEO Micky Arison saying the Cost Guard had responded to 90 “serious events” involving Carnival ships in five years. The Coast Guard and Navy, he said, spent $4.2 million to cover the Triumph and Splendor incidents. Carnival, he reminded Arison, pays “little or nothing in federal taxes.”
He asked Arison if Carnival would reimburse the two branches.
Carnival’s senior vice president, corporate maritime policy, James Hunn wrote that Carnival’s policy is to honor maritime tradition that holds that the duty to render assistance at sea to those in need is a universal obligation of the entire maritime community. Hunn noted that the Carnival Breeze diverted from its scheduled course on March 25 to help the Coast Guard respond to two individuals requiring medical help in a small boat off the Florida coast.
With regard to the 90 “serious events” Rockefeller noted in his letter to Arison, Hunn said only seven — including those involving the Triumph, Splendor, Concordia and four others — amounted to “serious maritime incidents,” as defined by the Code of Federal Regulations.
In letters to the senator, Carnival indicated it has no intent to reimburse the Coast Guard and Navy for assistance in the Triumph and Splendor incidents, or for any future problem where they require help from the U.S. government to aid a distressed vessel.
Carnival’s response to his detailed inquiry, said Sen. Rockefeller, “is shameful.” Nonetheless, the company appears to be sailing unscathed.
When the Concordia went down last year, cruise liners worried that spooked customers would stay on land when summer season bookings, which account for the bulk of bucks the industry makes, were predicted to show the greatest drop-off.
But despite the rough seas, the cruise ship industry appears to be bounding back. Carnival, whose brands include Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Cunard, Princess Cruises and Costa Cruises, in February announced a record number of guests for a single one-week period — between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3 — with gross bookings of more than 187,000 guests. And the company said bookings were at unprecedented levels across its 24-ship fleet.
Carnival competitor Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL), which owns Celebrity Cruises, reported a decline its fourth-quarter earnings from a year earlier. But the company is expecting a better 2013. MSN Money reported Royal Caribbean’s booking volumes are about 20 percent higher from a year earlier.
“We’re happy with the strong bookings we’re seeing in the United States, but we’re unhappy about the weakness we’re seeing in many of the European Union countries, most notably Spain and the U.K,” said Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain during a February earnings conference call. “Even though the economies in the U.S. and in places like Germany and France still aren’t very good, or aren’t great, it’s really the weakness in Southern Europe that is keeping our yields from truly exciting growth.”
Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which went public in January, reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter profits and revenue in February.
Apparently, cruisers in NEPA agree with the sanguine markets.
Longtime cruiser, Robert Pulaski, 60, of Moosic took his first cruise 33 years ago, in 1980. And, he said, nothing’s changed.
He’s cruised on Carnival, Celebrity and Norwegian, cruised from Miami and Barcelona to the Bahamas, Jamaica, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Italy, Egypt, Malta, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Eastern Caribbean, among others.
His worst cruise experiences? “Minor nuisance stuff,” he said. “I didn’t like the food or the pillow on the bed.
“One thing that sticks in my mind,” he said, “was that one of the captains on a Norwegian ship embarrassed me. He didn’t shake my hand when I extended it.
“Apparently the captain and crew were trying not to have physical contact with passengers because of a virus scare.”
His take on Carnival?
“Carnival’s OK. Basically all cruise lines and cruises are the same — the crew always tries to the best they can. There have been some ships that have had serious problems. And, when they don’t and all is perfect, there’s still someone who complains about something.”
Pulaski said he knows how infrequent crisis visits cruises. He said he will cruise again. There is a risk you take with anything, he said, and he believes cruise lines are working to step up maintenance and prevention so that these thing don’t happen. “With anything — on the water, on land, in the air — on a personal trip, on business, on any mode of transportation — people should know that things can go wrong and be open and flexible to change with the circumstances. Before making any plans, you collect your thoughts and yourself. If you’re panicking, make sure it’s really merited.”
Joanne Harris, 58, of Hazleton is in the same boat. She’s traveled on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity and Carnival from Miami, Fort Lauderdale and New York to the Bahamas, Bermuda, Cozumel, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Thomas, Barbados, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grand Cayman.
Harris has cruised since the Concordia and said she will cruise again.
“The Costa Concordia was a tragic accident,” said Harris. “But you can also have a tragic accident on a train, a plane, you name it. It is a shame about the Concordia but I believe that was due to poor judgment on the captain’s part. I am sure Carnival is doing everything it can to prevent a reoccurrence.”
Her worst experiences on a cruise? “Rough seas. That’s it.”
So how safe is cruising – by the numbers? TravelReadyMD says the most dangerous part of your cruise will be driving to the port or airport. The Pittsburgh-based organization aims to prepare travelers for healthy and safe international travel while arming them with perspective.
According to TravelReadyMD, in any given year five times more people die in an airplane crashes worldwide than on sinking cruise ships. TravelReady said 125 times more people die in car crashes the U.S. alone than on sinking ships anywhere in the world. In a vehicle, the odds are one in 83 in your lifetime that you will be seriously injured in a car crash.
As for air travel, worldwide, on average, 150 to 200 planes carrying six or more passengers crash and kill roughly 1,000 people a year. Most are smaller aircraft.
Compute the odds and your average chance of dying on a commercial flight in 2011 was one in 7.6 million.
TravelReadyMD says in the last five years roughly 1,000 people died on cruise ships which sank or ran aground, making an average of 200 people a year. However, over three quarters of those deaths occurred in one disaster, when a typhoon sank the M/V Princess of the Stars in the Philippines in 2008.
Unsettlingly, TravelReadyMD notes this “cautionary note” on its website: “Cruise ships have a low incidence of sinkings and groundings but one recurring theme is notable: survivors of the major crashes report that the crew aboard your cruise may not be able or willing to help you in the event of a catastrophic accident.”