Costa bolsters safety procedures


VENICE — Costa Cruises has implemented measures aimed at enhancing passenger safety — a result of the loss of 32 lives following the capsizing of Costa Concordia.

At a press conference and interview with Travel Weekly aboard the 3,800-passenger Costa Fascinosa on Monday, Costa President Gianni Onorato said, "We will never forget the victims and those who suffered in his tragedy" when the Concordia ran aground.

"We took important messages related to the tragedy of Jan. 13. We tried to be self-critical of internal procedures [such as] how much time we donated to safety," and focused on guest safety and bridge-management procedures.

Seven policies were announced soon after the christening of Costa Fascinosa, including a new emphasis on the traditional lifejacket/muster station drill.

Cabin TVs continuously loop a 12-minute video on how to don a life jacket and proceed to the muster station. The video, which also informs passengers about what to expect during the muster drill, is in six languages.

Costa will now conduct the muster drill before the ship leaves the dock.

At the muster station, the life jacket instructions are given in the six languages, while at least one of the half-dozen or so crew members at each muster station demonstrates. Thus, the assembled passengers, already wearing a jacket, repeatedly see how to do it correctly.

To be more visible, crew members are in brilliant yellow jackets, while passengers don the traditional orange jackets.

And passengers must bring to the muster station and hand to a crew member a red, plastic card that is embedded with a chip. Costa will use the system to track attendance. Passengers who do not attend will receive a letter in their cabin, instructing them to attend a drill the next morning.

"We take all possible steps to invite them to participate, but we cannot force them to do so," Onorato said.

Even before booking a cruise, passengers can view pages at Costa’s website that recount Costa's training and inspection initiatives and the lifejacket video. Soon, Costa plans to publish profiles of all the line's captains and executive officers.

Since 2010, Onorato said officers for all Carnival Corp. brands have been attending weeklong classes at a facility in the Netherlands to learn how to be "more collegial" at decision-making on the bridge.

"The captain is to become more of an admiral, still supervising" but expecting other officers on the bridge — as many as four — "to take part in any maneuver by thinking out loud ... to collaborate."

Added Onorato, "For the past three months, we have developed a very sophisticated system to monitor, in real time, the route of all the ships in the Costa fleet, … checking the actual position against the plan filed by the captain before departure. In case of a deviation, an alarm sounds at headquarters, and a call is immediately made to the ship."

That monitoring system is already in place.

Conversely, the main office can contact a ship to suggest it change course due to unforeseen elements, such as sudden weather changes or other vessels, in the path of the cruise ship.

Speaking briefly of the Concordia incident, Onorato said, "We expect in July that the evidence found in the ship's black box (its onboard recorder) will be made public, starting a new phase of the criminal case." He said it is likely the trial of the Concordia captain could begin by December.

Onorato said that "out of respect of the dead and injured and their relatives, we decided to keep a low profile with the Fascinosa's christening.”

“We reduced the number of guests, had them attend the ceremony in the ship's theater, and did not hold the typical dockside extravaganza," he said.

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