Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hype About the Costa Concordia Tragedy Is A Disservice

There are few things worse than bad journalism and hype causing not only unnecessary upset and poor decision making for the consumer, but distracting the professionals (from regulatory agencies to cruise lines to travel agents) from doing the job that is actually needed to be done.

The reporting on the Costa Concordia, and some of the reactions caused thereby, have more than bothered me.  I mean, would you expect less, when I complain bitterly about how individuals post, repeat and foster huge amounts of misinformation on Cruise Critic and the site’s owners not only don’t do anything to correct the erroneous information, they foster its creation. 

Why?  Because just like the media, it has become a matter of gaining readership and, therefore, increased rates for, and number of, advertisements.  In other words, veracity of content just isn’t that important; traffic is.

It started off slowly. My ears perked up when I heard a CNN report referencing the “luxury” cruise liner.  I think it is clear that the Costa Concordia is/was nothing close to a luxury cruise ship (and it is not a “liner”, but let’s not get too technical).  The ship itself is very closely related to a number of Carnival Cruise Line ships.  ‘Nuf said.

But then it grew. 

Undocumented passengers were allegedly onboard.  And then it expanded to there being secreted (possibly illegal) workers onboard. Those things were reported quickly.  What hasn’t really been reported is that the original claim was from a telephone call to the Hungarian Embassy from a person with a fictitious name supposedly looking for a relative.    But what it also did (other than bring Costa under false attack for allegedly not having a secure ship) was have a significant number of man hours spent not only by Costa, but governmental agencies and rescue workers to be sure that there were no more people missing…and trying to find these phantoms; not to mention the public relations/consumer concern end of things.

There has been huge focus on the muster drill procedures and, emotionally, a significant number of “consumer advocates” jumping on the bandwagon of how allegedly dangerous this was.  I am going to go out on a limb here and speak without emotion:  There were 4,000+ people on that ship and, worse case, 99.25% of them were safely evacuated and they were evacuated the idiocy of captain Schettino causing the problem, his delaying the evacuation for over an hour (rendering half of the lifeboats useless) and then he and his officers leaving everyone to their own devices as they abandoned ship and the passengers. How many lives would have been saved if the muster was held earlier in the cruise?  How many would have been saved if everyone brought their life jackets to the muster; noting a number of the souls discovered were wearing their life jackets and at least one woman died of a heart attack!

I know this may sound cold-hearted, but there are accidents within all modes of transportation and while everyone strives for, and prays for, 100% success rates in saving lives, it is just not possible.  Imagine if it was an airline crash (there are far more of those…and they are very rare) and 99.25% survived.  That would be considered a miracle.  Imagine a major highway pile-up type accident and 99.25% survived. 

I have read about there being a faulty design in the ship, but this is by people that don’t really know enough to make those calls.  Trust me on this: There are many very distinct professions and expertises in the maritime world and I have heard people speak of stability, hull shapes, etc. that not only haven’t done the engineering, but aren’t capable of doing it.  Hence I wonder (not really) why these are the people who put their faces out front stirring a pot that probably need not be stirred.  (I am still waiting to hear if all of the water-tight doors were properly closed and secured.  I have noted my hunch, but have not stated it to be a fact.)  Systems are only as good as their being followed.

Without going on too long, regardless of phony claims of stowaways, baseless claims of ship design issues, focusing on muster drills (because we understand them), etc., the fact is this accident was so obviously avoidable and the captain was so obviously incompetent…or worse.

What is found in almost every accident is that there is a significant human factor involved. Changing a muster drill may make you emotionally feel safer, but the reality of it is that the human (here the captain and the ship’s other officers) factors would have – not “could have” – avoided the entirety of the accident and would have – not “could have” – increased the survival rate to even closer to 100% if for no reason other than starting the evacuation procedures earlier (if not with more direction and supervision).

Yes, hype sells advertising.  But at what cost? 

What do you think?  Join the conversation on The Gold Standard Luxury Travel Forum.