At House hearing, CLIA chief says cruise safety is top of mind

By Donna Tunney

Safety is the cruise industry’s top priority and there is “nothing that is more important to our industry,” CLIA CEO Christine Duffy told Washington lawmakers investigating the Costa Concordia accident.

Duffy was among several cruise industry representatives to testify Wednesday before the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcomittee.

“Immediately following the grounding of the Concordia, CLIA member cruise lines launched a Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review, a comprehensive assessment of the critical human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety,” Duffy said in her opening testimony.

Christine DuffyThe review, she said, is four-fold and includes an internal review by CLIA members of their own operational safety practices; consultation on the issues with independent, external experts; the identification and sharing of industry best practices; and a commitment to collaborate with the International Maritime Organization to implement any necessary changes.

The first policy change, Duffy told the subcommittee, went into effect Feb. 9 when the CLIA member lines agreed to hold emergency muster drills before ships depart from a port where passengers embarked.

Others who testified included Evans Hoyt, captain of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of Amierica; George Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Princess Cruises; Michael Crye, executive vice president of CLIA; and Brian Schoeneman, legislative director of Seafarers International Union.

Several subcommittee members questioned the panel about crew training policies, and agreed that the Costa Concordia accident was a “teachable moment” for the cruise industry.

“Every indication is that this was incredibly poor judgment by one mariner, and when you have someone who exercises poor judgment, and a lack of judgment, it’s very difficult to deal with,” said John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

The lawmakers also heard a first-hand account of the evacuation of the Concordia after it hit rocks off the Italian coast Jan. 13 and capsized.

Divya and Sameer Sharma of Medford, Mass., appeared before the subcommittee and explained what happened from the time they boarded the ship in Civitavecchia, Italy, in the late afternoon until they reached shore in a lifeboat later that night. The two had booked the cruise to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.

Like other Concordia passengers, the couple described a scene of chaos and confusion, and the lack of any leadership from officers or crew, prompting Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) to say: “Having had nothing to do with it, even I am embarrassed [for this cruise line].”

Earlier the subcommittee heard from U.S. Coast Guard representatives, who testified the cruise industry overall has a strong safety record.

“Cruise ships rank among the lowest in casualties, in the single digit numbers. They are comparatively safe and overall it is a safe industry. That doesn’t happen by accident,” said Vice Admiral Brian Salerno.

Duffy told the subcommittee that the industry is highly regulated and would continue to pursue changes that will enhance onboard safety policies.

For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter@dttravelweekly. 

Correction: The following quote was said by John Mica, not Frank LoBiondo. “Every indication is that this was incredibly poor judgment by one mariner, and when you have someone who exercises poor judgment, and a lack of judgment, it’s very difficult to deal with.” 

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