How Safe Is Your Cruise Vacation?

If you've ever been on a cruise before, you'd certainly be familiar with the muster drill which is undertaken shortly after all passengers have boarded ship or at least within the first 24 hours of departing port.

For the most part passengers listen intently to the information provided during the presentation, while others can be observed drinking and chatting away oblivious to the importance of the exercise. Others don't even bother attending, as they scurry away into their cabins completely ignorant and oblivious to the potential consequences of non-attendance.


One doesn't have to look too far back in history to recall the devastating consequences of the Costa Concordia disaster which occurred on 13th January 2012. Although inattention wasn't to play a part in the tragedy as the drill had not yet been held for the passengers, the ship was less than three hours from port and many passengers were enjoying their first meal in the dining room when disaster happened upon them.

International Convention For The Safety Of Life At Sea

Following the sinking of the RMS Titanic on 14th April 1912, an international maritime treaty was created and named the International Convention For The Safety Of Life At Sea (SOLAS). Signatory Flag States (the state under whose laws the ship is registered or licensed) must ensure that ships flagged by those nations comply with the minimum standards of SOLAS including in the areas of construction, safety and equipment.

As mentioned, the first version of SOLAS was created after the tragic sinking of the Titanic and passed in 1914. This version prescribed a number of measures including the number of lifeboats and other types of emergency equipment, together with a number of safety measures including the provision of continuous radio watches.

Due to the outbreak of WWI, the treaty was never implemented. Updated versions of SOLAS were adopted by the signatory flag states in 1929, 1948 and 1960 respectively, with further versions following. By March of 2016, SOLAS had amassed 162 contracted states, accounting for approximately 99% of merchant chips around the world. Within each section of the treaty, the document includes Chapters which sets out general obligations including:

  • Chapter I – General Provisions.
  • Chapter II-1 – Construction – Subdivision and stability, machinery and electrical installations.
  • Chapter II-2 – Fire protection, fire detection and fire extinction.
  • Chapter III – Life-saving appliances and arrangements.
  • Chapter IV – Radio communications.
  • Chapter V – Safety of navigation.
  • Chapter VI – Carriage of Cargoes.
  • Chapter VII – Carriage of dangerous goods.
  • Chapter VIII – Nuclear ships.
  • Chapter IX – Management for the Safe Operation of Ships.
  • Chapter X – Safety measures for high-speed craft.
  • Chapter XI-1 – Special measures to enhance maritime safety.
  • Chapter XI-2 – Special measures to enhance maritime security.
  • Chapter XII – Additional safety measures for bulk carriers.
  • Chapter XIII - Verification of compliance.
  • Chapter XIV - Safety measures for ships operating in polar waters.

The Safety Of Life At Sea, SOLAS is administered by the United Nation's International Marine Organization (IMO). In the United States, the U.S Coast Guard conducts regular audits to ensure ships in US territorial waters are compliant with the code.

Muster V's Safety Briefing

SOLAS regulations state that within a period of 24 hours from boarding, a safety briefing must be held 'immediately before sailing or immediately after sailing.'

A briefing must consist of at least a Public Announcement (PA) and may include other supplementary information including the provision of written material issued to each cabin providing area instructions that 'detail the actions each person on board should follow in the event of an emergency'.


A muster is classed as a different activity or event than that of a briefing, and requires that passengers are physically assembled, and the event is to occur within 24 hours of sailing. During this drill, passengers are not required to fit their life jackets on their person, however the muster needs to include an instruction on how passengers should correctly fit a life jacket. Interestingly, the muster drill scheduled on the Costa Concordia was not scheduled to occur until after the ship took on additional passengers in the port of Savona, Italy.

Due to the size and numbers of passengers on large modern cruise ships sailing the oceans of the world, (some carrying well over 6,000 passengers including Oasis of The Seas, 7,144 and Allure of The Seas, 7148) some cruise lines have adapted their own muster drills to include the assembly of passengers into large spaces around the cruise ship as opposed to mustering on outside decks to await further instructions, in order to avoid potential issues with overcrowding and crowd control.

Additionally some ships opt to store passenger life jackets at muster station points throughout the ship, negating the need for passengers to return to their lower deck level cabins, together with minimizing the risk of accidental slipping and tripping during by life vest belts. Further reasons include congestion in cabin hallways, with people who have donned their life jackets in their cabin and then having to return to their designated muster point.


Lessons Learned From The Costa Concordia Incident

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 ship flooded causing it to list, after which it finally came to rest on its side in 45 feet of water off the town of Giglio, Italy. The final death toll from this tragic incident came to 32 passengers.

History now tells us the disaster was set off by a sequence of events beginning when the ship's captain, Francesco Schettino deviated from a pre-authorized computerized course to manoeuvre the ship close to the island of Giglio, subsequently hitting a reef. Frighteningly, it would be later revealed the captain had undertaken the unapproved movement previously.


Although the ship began to take on water immediately after the collision, the call to abandon ship was neither immediate or clear, with almost one full hour elapsing before passengers were informed of the damage and ordered to evacuate. Once the notification was given, the ships alarms sounded with the evacuation reported to be 'chaotic' and somewhat hampered, as the ship began to list. Many passengers and ship's crew jumped directly into the water and swam to shore, others were recovered by lifeboats in the water.

Based upon various reports by the press, an approximate time line of the Costa Concordia disaster can be reconstructed, providing potential cruising passengers an insight as to what can, and does occur on board in an emergency.


Costa Concordia departs the Port of Civitavecchia near Rome, with a total of 4,229 passengers and crew on board for a seven day cruise.


Costa Concordia deviates from the charted course and makes a left turn to get a closer view of the Tuscan Island of Giglio. The detour is approximately 5 miles off the ships pre-approved course.


The vessel strikes a rocky reef on its port side approximately 300 meters off the town of Giglio.


Electrical power is lost.


The first alarm is sounded to alert crew of a problem.


The ship's Captain, Francesco Schettino, initially contacts the ship's operator Costa Crociere, and reports having lost electrical power and flooding in one compartment.


Costa Concordia begins to list on its port (left) side.


Captain Schettino makes second contact by phone to the ship's operator Costa Crociere and reports flooding in the second compartment.


Captain Schettino attempts to manoeuvre the ship toward the shoreline of Giglio by using the ship's bow thruster to turn the ship starboard (right). Reports indicate the ship began at this point listing to starboard (right).


The Italian Coast Guard contacts Costa Concordia after passengers contact police on land to advise them of problems on board the ship. Crew on board the Costa Concordia tell the Coast Guard they are experiencing a black out.


A third call is made to Costa Crociere to discuss the size of the breach and the ship's captain, Schettino makes assurances that the situation is 'under control'.


A fourth call is made by Captain Schettino to inform Costa Crociere the ship was listing and that he was in contact with Italian authorities.


The captain makes a final call to Costa officials to advise he planned to abandon the vessel.


The abandon ship signal is issued and the crew begin to deploy lifeboats.


The first lifeboat reaches the shore of Giglio.


The Coast Guard makes contact with Captain Schettino while he is on board a lifeboat and orders the Captain back on board the Costa Concordia.


The Coast Guard again makes telephone contact with Captain Schettino and order him back on board to provide an inventory of passengers.

Regardless of who or what was ultimately deemed responsible for what happened after the ship ran aground, the above communications suggest many other factors played a part in the disaster. In a number of statements provided to authorities by passengers in the days following the disaster, there was a strong suggestion the Costa Concordia crew lacked training and discipline.

Further, it was stated the crew had ignored basic international standards for passenger safety. Once the ship ran aground, passengers reported they were given conflicting instructions about whether to stay in their rooms or abandon the Costa Concordia. Crew assistance to passengers trying to get off the listing vessel was haphazard at best, leading to panic and chaos and contributing to the overall number of casualties and death.

During the course of any disaster, it can be difficult to place your trust in those who are tasked to do so and many times over, as the example about which you have just read requires that we must take responsibility for our own safety. Whether you are a passenger on a sinking cruise ship or a guest in a burning hotel, there are a number of steps we can all take to proactively manage our own personal safety. Here are just a few:


Always give 100% of your attention to the muster drill. The muster drill on a cruise ship is likened to receiving a safety briefing on an passenger aircraft. The crew are required by law to deliver this information for your protection. As a passenger on board an aircraft, some of us may have a tendency to 'tune out' to the mandatory safety briefings after a while, however it is important to check for the following when boarding an aircraft:

1. Do I have a life vest under my seat?

2. Is the nearest exit behind me, or in front of me?

3. Is there anything different about this aircraft's configuration that I should take note of?

  • On board a cruise ship, safety and muster drills play an important part in ensuring passenger safety, so always pay attention during these briefings, even if you are a regular cruise traveler. It might just save your life and that of your loved ones.

  • Know the layout of the ship together with an understanding of where to report in the event of an evacuation. This information is usually found posted on the inside of your cabin door. Notwithstanding, the fact or otherwise a muster drill has occurred on board, familiarize yourself with the instructions and fully identify the location in which you are required to go to in the event of an emergency. At the earliest possible time once you have embarked on board, orientate yourself and become familiar with all areas of the ship, including first and foremost your designated muster point.

  • Understand and locate the quickest and most efficient way to get to the deck, and where your muster station is, together with identifying the location of the nearest lifeboats - do not use the elevators. Once you've identified the most efficient route, map out a secondary route, should the first one become obstructed in the course of an 'actual' emergency.

  • Know where the nearest life jackets are at all times and be sure to fit your own life jacket before you assist others. Recognize when there is an emergency signal issued. A normal shipboard signal for evacuation is seven short blasts from the ship's horn, followed by one long blast. If you hear the signal, follow instructions and head to the nearest evacuation point.

  • One of the problems identified with the Costa Concordia was the loss of power. In fact this occurred within 5 minutes of the collision. All interior cabins were almost immediately plunged into darkness, making escape more challenging than under otherwise 'normal' circumstances. Rather than assuming reliability on emergency lighting, pack a small flashlight or torch and carry it around attached to your cruise lanyard or in your pocket. In case of emergency the light is with you when you need it, and not locked away in your cabin.

  • Another issue for passengers on board the Costa Concordia was once rescued, many did not have on their person any valid form of identification. Many of the passengers had surrendered their passports when they boarded the ship, which I'm not quite so sure why - perhaps its a European thing or maybe it was done in order to keep their documents securely stored away rather than kept in their cabin. Always retain a photocopy of the main page of your passport and keep it with you at all times.

It may seem like a 'big ask' to think about how you would prepare for the worst when traveling on holiday, however a few considered minutes of planning can potentially change the course of your destiny, and that of your loved ones.


The Fallout

The fallout of the Costa Concordia began to be realized when in July of 2014, five people were sentenced for their part in the disaster, most of which avoided jail time. A total of four crew members and a company official received sentences of between 18 and 34 months after pleading guilty to multiple counts of manslaughter, negligence and shipwreck. Among them were Robert Ferrarini, the ship's Crisis Coordinator, Cabin Services Manager Manrico Giampedrone and First Officer Ciro Ambrosio.

In 2015 the former captain of the ill-fated Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettio was sentenced to 16 years jail after being found guilty of multiple charges of manslaughter and a number of other charges including negligence. The ship wreck remained in its watery grave for two and a half years before being towed away in what remains to be the most expensive maritime wreck recovery in history.

In 2012 a number of surviving passengers were interviewed by media providing an insight into the chaos on board. An extract of the article detailing first hand accounts by survivors were undertaken by Britain's The Telegraph newspaper and are credited and reproduced here.

Brian-Page-Costa-Concordia-Survivor BRIAN PAGE: Passenger & Survivor

As tables overturned and plates and glasses crashed to the floor in the Roma Restaurant, Brian Page, a retired accountant recovering from radio- and chemotherapy treatment for cancer, was struck on the head by a box of candles flying through the air. It started a night of chaos and terror, culminating in him sliding across the heavily listing deck to reach the safety of a lifeboat.

After the initial collision with reefs, Mr Page and his fellow diners moved to the bar, where they sat for more than an hour. Mr Page, 63, a divorcee from Southampton, said: 'Over the Tannoy there was an announcement not to panic and that everything was under control. We just sat talking quite casually. Then the alarm did go and the announcement came to abandon ship.'

With neither a life jacket or his medication Mr Page returned to his cabin, number 2381, on Deck 2. 'The emergency lights were on, it was very steep, but I was managing to walk reasonably well,' he said. 'The cabin was in complete darkness and I was scrambling around trying to get hold of my medicine and my rucksack to put it in and my life jacket.'

Mr Page made his way to a muster station on Deck 3 close to the funnel on the side which was starting to tip skywards only to find that all the lifeboats were packed. The people gathered on deck were told to make their way to the back of the ship to see if there were any lifeboats available. But not only were these full, they were impossible to launch because one side of the Concordia was by now high in the air.

Mr Page climbed a deck and made his way towards the back of the ship, passing at least five other muster stations. He reached the highest point of the liner and was clinging on to the rails to stop himself falling, as it continued to list and the incline got steeper and steeper. 'I was holding on the railings for dear life,' he said.

An announcement instructed people to move to the other side, which was closer to the water and from where lifeboats were still being launched. Mr Page was one of the first to let go and slide across the boat, through Milano restaurant, before crashing into railings. He then managed to squeeze through them, dropping himself four feet into a lifeboat.

'Behind us people were getting pushed and crushed against the railings, there were people with broken fingers,' he said. The lifeboat was released and shortly after Mr Page finally reached the safety of the shore.

Ian-And-Janice-Donoff-Costa-Concordia-Survivors IAN AND JANICE DONOFF: Passengers & Survivors

The honeymoon couple were among hundreds of people who had to clamber along a rope ladder, strapped to the side of the ship, to make their way to a life raft. Their dramatic escape was captured by a photographer in one of the most dramatic images of the night.

Mr Donoff, a retired businessman who had married his wife Janice, a solicitor, 11 days earlier, said: 'I was in the theatre where there was a magic show and suddenly the magician seemed to disappear. This wasn’t part of his act, it was because he had seen something at that lower lever which caused him and other people to rush out of the auditorium. The lights started going out, mixing desks, sound systems everything went out.'

'The Tannoy announced, 'The captain has reported a generator or fault and would ask you not to panic. Engineers are looking at it now.’ But I thought, 'Why would you get a scraping noise with a generator?’ Growing increasingly concerned, the couple went to their cabin, number 7248 on Deck 7 and grabbed passports, wallets and life jackets before going to Muster Station B on the side of the ship tipping into the air, reaching it at 10.15pm.

Mr Donoff from Edgware, north London, said: 'From what I could work out the ship had hit something. The captain was trying to take her closer to the mainland and didn’t want people to board the lifeboats until he’d managed that. As a result many of the lifeboats were rendered useless because the listing of the ship was so severe. They just couldn’t physically be lowered into the water. It was impossible to move ours and all 107 of us climbed out of the lifeboat.'

He said staff, who were cooks and waiters during the day, were trying to calm people down but 'they did not know what to do. 'I thought we would not get out, a marriage should last more than 11 days,' said Mr Donoff. 'There was this mad scramble for a ladder: people got crushed pushed and goodness knows what, it was like a free for all.'

'Children seemed to be treated with some sort of reverence, so they were pushed up quicker, but apart from that it was hell. Once we got to the top you could see the sea. The local lifeguards had placed a rope ladder along the side and we used our bottoms to go down one end, then turned around and scaled over what was the hull, where they helped you on little boats.'

'It was a bit like crawling across an ice rink because it was wet and slippery and cold. Some people were freaking out, others were staying incredibly calm. It was absolutely treacherous and it wasn’t till 4.30am that we reached the water.'

'The lifeboat crews took over and they were fantastic. They lifted people onto their boats before transferring them to other lifeboats to the mainland and evacuating them away from the ship. We are very, very lucky to be alive.'

Monique-Maurek MONIQUE MAUREK: Passenger & Survivor

In the theatre were Monique Maurek 41, and her husband Anton. 'There was a loud tearing sound and we felt a crunch,' said Mrs Maurek, an undertaker from Rotterdam, Holland.

'At first we thought it was part of the magic show. But then the boat started tilting to one side and woman on a wheelchair came sliding past us at speed and that’s when the panic started. The magician ran off. He just disappeared.'

'We didn’t have life jackets and people were shouting that we should go up to Deck 4 to get some. There were people stuck in the lifts screaming so we climbed up the large staircase. When we got outside, on the side of the ship furthest away from the water, we managed to get some of the last life jackets. There was a panic and my husband pushed me into a lifeboat to make sure I got on. Other people fell on top of me and I was screaming. People were falling out of the lifeboat in front of us down into the water.'

The lifeboat was stuck and it took four crew members 20 minutes to force it down into the sea before the Maureks escaped.

We pay our respects to the 32 people who lost their lives in this tragic incident.

Costa Concordia Passengers

Barbara Heil

Brunhilde Werp

Christina Mathi Ganz

Dayana Arlotti

Egon Hoer

Elisabethe Bauer

Francis Servel

Gabriel Grube

Gerald Heil

Giovanni Masia

Gual Guillermo

Horste Galle

Inge Schall

Jean-Pierre Micheaud

Jeannette Gannard

Josef Werp

Luisa Antonio Virzi

Margarethe Neth

Margrit Schoeter

Maria D'Introna

Maria Grazia Trecharichi

Mickal Blemand

Mylene Litzer

Norbert Joesph Ganz

Pierre Gregoire

Siglinde Stumpf

William Arlotti

Costa Concordia Crew Members

Erika Fani Soria Molina

Girolamo Giuseppe

Russel Terrence Rebello

Sandor Feher

Thomas Alberto Costilla Mendoza

Sandra Hawkins

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