Look for a new cruise ship with a dozen outdoor eateries from Norwegian Cruise Line, a chic new chef’s table concept on Princess Cruises’ next ship and a return of wheelers on U.S. rivers. Those nuggets were among news revealed at last week’s Cruise Shipping Miami, an annual cruise industry trade show held each year in March.
But the topic that drew the most attention in this year following the Costa Concordia tragedy and other incidents was safety at sea. Cruise company executives focused on safety during their annual “State of the Industry’’ presentation. Lines showed off the newest simulators used to train shipboard staff for potential emergencies; seminars focused on medical care at sea. At the week’s end the U.S. Coast Guard announced its review of each ship’s safety procedures will now include observing a passenger safety drill now that cruise ships have changed their own rules to require safety drills before a ship leaves port.
The Costa Allegra is being towed toward Mahe in the Seychelles following an engine-room fire Monday that left the ship adrift. None of the 636 passengers and 413 crew members were injured, according to Costa. Food and communications gear are being sent to the ship via helicopter; the vessel is expected to reach land early Thursday.
“Guests onboard are continuously being informed and assisted by the captain and the staff,” Costa said in an emailed statement.
Passengers were sent to their muster stations as a precaution when the fire broke out, according to the company. The ship currently has no air conditioning and lighting is limited, but passengers were served a cold breakfast Tuesday, according to Costa. The seas has been struck in the past by Somalian pirates, but Costa officials have said they have armed security on board.
Two ships from other companies also have been hit with norovirus in recent weeks in well publicized incidents, leading to the impression that norovirus is a "cruise ship'' disease. It's not, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which says that 1 in every 15 Americans will contract norovirus this year.
My own too-close encounter with the gastrointestinal virus is a case in point. It arrived courtesy of a conference in a hotel in a major U.S. city.
The Costa Concordia’s accident off the Italian coast is a horrible tragedy, with at least 11 people dead and others still missing. But the industry’s record for safety remains strong: Nearly 14 million people cruise each year on major cruise ships, and few industry watchers can even remember the last time a fire or ship failure resulted in passenger deaths.
The U.S. Coast Guard is involved with safety aspects of the cruise ship design before it is even built. Once launched, each cruise ship that sails from the U.S. must pass U.S. Coast Guard certification. Each is inspected at least every six months on both announced and unannounced inspections that include reviewing staff safety procedures. Crews are drilled regularly on safety procedures. Those that don’t sail from U.S. ports still must meet safety standards set by individual countries and by SOLAS, an international safety and standards convention that is set by International Maritime Organization, an arm of the United Nations.