Mica: Recent Cruise Ship Incidents - A Warning Signal for U.S.

By MarEx 2012-02-29 14:34:20

The Chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee called recent accidents or incidents involving cruise ships in foreign waters a warning signal for officials and the cruise industry to make certain U.S. cruise passengers are as safe as possible.

Mica and Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) led a Congressional hearing today focused on cruise ship safety in light of the recent COSTA CONCORDIA cruise ship accident. Since today’s hearing was first scheduled, another cruise ship incident involving the COSTA ALLEGRA occurred in the Indian Ocean involving loss of power. Both vessels are operated by the same company.

“Taking a cruise is a safe and enjoyable option for travel and recreation, affordable to more Americans today than ever before, but recent incidents serve as a warning signal for U.S. officials and industry,” Mica said. “With the increase in the number of today’s megaships and ten million Americans embarking on cruises every year, we must ensure that passengers can continue to enjoy cruising without worrying about their safety.”

Mica continued, “This is an important job-creating industry in the United States, generating $37 billion in annual economic activity. Congress is responsible for making certain that the nation’s safety laws are adequate given the state of the industry today. By examining the COSTA CONCORDIA accident or any other incidents, we can help determine the sufficiency of U.S. laws and identify whether we must work with international organizations to address shortcomings in international law.”

“A century after the TITANIC tragedy and the establishment of international ship safety standards, we must now heed this new warning, assure safety standards are being followed and enforced, and avoid another preventable tragedy,” Mica added.

“Our goal is to prevent a similar accident from occurring in U.S. waters or aboard a cruise vessel which calls on American ports,” said LoBiondo. “The cruise industry and the Coast Guard must continue to work together to ensure that taking a cruise remains one of the safest and most enjoyable ways to travel.”

During today’s hearing, Mica discussed the possibility of holding a future roundtable discussion with the Coast Guard, as well as representatives of the cruise industry, labor and other stakeholders, once the investigation of the COSTA CONCORDIA is complete to determine what laws and regulations may need to be updated to improve cruise vessel safety.

In the United States, the cruise industry impacts millions of Americans annually. In 2010, more than 10 million U.S. residents embarked on a cruise, generating more than $37 billion for the U.S. economy and sustaining nearly 330,000 American jobs. Cruising is one of the safest ways to travel, and today’s hearing will help Members of the Subcommittee determine whether the circumstances of the COSTA CONCORDIA accident shed any light on the necessity for additional safety measures, either in the United States or through working with the international community.

The COSTA CONCORDIA Accident: On January 13, 2012, the COSTA CONCORDIA, with 3,229 passengers and 1,023 crew members aboard, struck a reef off the Italian coast. The vessel flooded, causing it to list and come to rest on its side in 45 feet of water. There are currently 25 known fatalities, and 7 people remain missing, including two Americans from Minnesota.

Although official investigations are ongoing, extensive media reports indicate that the vessel’s captain overrode a pre-programmed navigation track line. Reports also indicate the call to abandon ship was neither immediate nor clear, and the evacuation was chaotic. It has been reported that the captain abandoned the ship well before most of the passengers evacuated and refused to return when ordered to do so by the Italian Coast Guard.

Divya and Sameer Sharma, two passengers who were onboard the COSTA CONCORDIA, testified at today’s hearing to the chaos that reportedly characterized the aftermath of the initial allision with the reef and the evacuation of the vessel. Their full testimony can be accessed here.

The COSTA ALLEGRA Incident: On February 27, 2012, the COSTA ALLEGRA – another cruise vessel named operated by the COSTA CONCORDIA’s operator, Costa Conciere – suffered a generator fire in the Indian Ocean. The fire was safely extinguished and no injuries were reported. The vessel is being towed to the Seychelles.

Safety Regulations: The International Convention on Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) sets out the international standards for vessel safety. Although the COSTA CONCORDIA complied with SOLAS requirements, the accident may point to areas in the convention that need further discussion.

The 1978 International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) established basic requirements on training, competence, testing, and certification of seafarers based on their duties aboard a vessel. More rigorous STCW requirements were adopted in 2010.

The U.S. Coast Guard regulates all cruise vessels calling on U.S. ports, regardless of the vessel’s flag state. The Coast Guard inspects each foreign-flagged cruise vessel calling on a U.S. port at least twice a year to ensure compliance with SOLAS, STCW, and several other international and U.S. regulations governing safety, security, environmental protections. U.S. regulations for U.S.-flagged cruise vessels comply with SOLAS and SCTW, but are more specific and in some instances more stringent.

For more information about today’s hearing, including testimony of witnesses, click here.

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Source: Transportation and Infrastructure Committee - http://transportation.house.gov

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