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How Safe Are Cruise Ships?

Bad weather is preventing rescuers from reaching the wreckage of the Costa Concordia, a luxury cruise ship that crashed off the Italian coast on Friday. Blame for the disaster, which has claimed at least six lives, is increasingly falling on the ship’s captain, who allegedly took the ship off-course and abandoned it before all the passengers were evacuated. The disaster has sparked outrage among officials and worry in the cruise industry, which is in the midst of its busiest season. How safe are cruise ships?

A 2004 article in Tourism Management suggests that while cruise vacations are generally safe, there are nonetheless gaps in some safety measures. One area of concern is the growing number of passengers on cruise ships: By 1999, there were nine million every year, and that number likely doubled during the 2000s. This growing number of “large and diverse groups of people,” the study says, “means that their officers, staff and crew need a clear understanding of human responses in emergencies and an ability to deal with crowds.” Effective emergency management requires extensive crew training, clear lines of communication, and proficiency in the use of various kinds of technology. Sadly, the chaos described by passengers on the Costa Concordia suggests that the ship’s captain and crew were simply not ready for this disaster.