Dear Diane Sawyer: Please Learn Difference Between Carnival and Costa
I am in Barbados getting news from CNN and Miami’s CBS affiliate on TV at the Almond Beach Resort. I must say that the visuals of the run-aground ship reminded me of the places I visited in County Mayo, Ireland and Belfast, Northern Ireland related to the sinking of the Titanic and made me grateful that I am on land.
There is so much to talk about related to this tragic event that you can count on multiple blogs from me related to this story. So let’s begin with the simple now and advance to the complex to follow:
Firstly, the name of the cruise line whose ship ran aground on January 13, 2012 is the Costa Concordia. The name of the cruise line is pronounces KOS-tah, not COAST-ah as I have heard it pronounced by too many news people who know othing about the cruise line and even less about cruising or travel.
For the first 2 days after this event, Costa Cruises, probably a complete unknown entity to those who spoke about it on television news, was mentioned as a “stand alone” cruise company. Yesterday news people started, finally, to mention that the Costa brand is part of the Carnival Cruise Lines family of brands which Carnival refers to as the World’s Leading Cruise Lines (WLCL). The following cruise lines are all part of WLCL group owned by Carnival:
Carnival Cruise Lines
Cunard Cruise Line
Holland America Line
Seabourn Cruise Line
Recently, Carnival sold off Windstar Cruises.
More than half of the cruise ships at sea are operated by the Carnvial group of companies. But by the time Diane Sawyer was finished with her evening report last night, you would have thought that it was a Carnival, not a Costa, ship that was impaled on a reef 450 feet from the Italian shoreline. I generally cringe when information about the travel industry and tips on travel are provided by people who truly know nothing about the travel industry.
If you can believe everything that you read and hear, the ship embarked from Rome’s port city, Civitavechhia, and was 40 miles away from that port 3 hours later when the captain made the tragic decision to bring the ship close to the shoreline, ostensibly to allow people on shore and the ship’s crew to wave to one another. The good news is that they were so close to the shore that about 4000 passengers and crew were able to reach land safely when a giant hole was gouged into the bottom of the ship.
Our hearts and prayers go out to the families of those who are known to have died in this tragic event and to those who are still awaiting news of their loved ones’ whereabouts.
You have to wonder how this kind of thing can happen. The CEO of Costa Cruises, based in Italy, says it was human error and Captain Schettino, who abandoned the ship, was arrested and faces a long list of charges. As a side note, I am so very happy that Maurice Zarmatti, a long time Carnival Cruise Lines executive and one of the very first Carnival employees, who was given the job of CEO of Costa in March 2008, retired in November 2011 after 41 years with the company. How awful it would have been for him to have this situation to deal with as a culminting activity to an amazing career.
But what happened to the fucntioning of all those fancy pieces of computerized equipment on the bridge? Did no one look at them or did they not function as they are designed?
I have been on the bridge of dozens of modern cruise ships and have experienced drinking champagne while munching on tasty hors d’oeuvres prepared for the occasion by the ships’ chefs while learning from the captain and the officers on the bridge how all the special equipment including sonar, radar, weather satellite equipment, maps, charts and graphs of every digital and electronic variety make sure that the ship is avoiding disaster and sailing into smooth waters, around storms and obstacles of all sorts. So what happened to the equipment? Was everyone out at the ship’s rail waiving to the folks on shore when the alarms were going bee-bop-a-doo? Was no one at the helm?
I have lost count of the number of times I have cruised but I can tell you that I have spent just on Holland America Line over 150 days at sea and have a big shiney medallion signifiying that I am a “Mariner” with that line as part of their recognition of my repeat voyages. I have sailed on big ships with 3000 passengers and small ships with 150 and, in general, the lifeboat drill takes place after you are out to sea, often the same day as embarkation within 2 to 3 hours after you have left your port but, sometimes, the lifeboat drill is the next morning after breakfast. I used to joke about that gap period which reminded me of the driver who doesn’t feel the need to wear a seat belt within a mile of his house as if nothing can happen to you when you are close to your starting point. Maybe lifeboat drills need to take place before the ship ever pulls away from the dock. It might be one more inconvenience thrown into the embarkation process of getting people and luggage to cabins but, from a safety point of view, clearly it’s not a bad idea!
I heard the US Embassy in Rome credited with assisting US passengers to get to the airport. I wasn’t there but I’m going to guess that’s not quite how the story unfolded. Typically, the staff at a US Embassy would not get involved in your traumatic experience in a country and they are not a limo service. But I can tell you that when you get on a cruise ship, even one leaving Florida going to the Bahamas or Caribbean, you need a passport and you need to turn it in to the pursers office. Most cruise line procedures have their check-in staff at the pier collect your passport and they give you a boarding card and tell you that you’ll get your passport back before you reach the next port. That doesn’t always happen and I’ll explain why and the challenges that poses in an upcoming blog so stayed tuned for that important information.
The ship’s staff will keep everyone’s passport so that the purser’s office has them when the customs officers from the next port-of- call come on board the ship to clear the ship’s passengers and crew so the ship can allow people to go ashore. That means that all of the passports of all of the passengers on the Costa Concordia, if everyone turned in their passport upon check-in at Civitavechhia, as is the procedure, when the survivors arrived on land, whether by swimming, tenders, boats of various types, or helicopters, they arrived with no identifying documentation. That only added to the nightmare of this story! So American citizens would have had to go to the US Embassy to organize appropriate passport identification so that the ship’s US passengers could check-in for their flights, get through security checkpoints and gate agents at the airport and re-enter the US. The US Embassy’s role was to make sure these citizens had what was needed to get them out of Italy and back home through entry points. While they may have, and gee I hope they did, actually assist them and/or escort them to the airport to see that nothing else went wrong, especially since there’s a good chance they had no wallets, money, credit cards and other items that may already have been in the safe in their cabin, these folks needed all the help they could get. It’s alway nice to see your tax dollars doing the right thing!
I watched a reporter on CNN give a travel tip for your next cruise: bring a small flashlight for the off-chance that your ship will be sinking and the lights will go out. I wondered if she was kidding. I don’t think she was. Unless you are planning to wear a flashlight around your neck or on your belt all the time, how would you find this flashlight in the dark with the ship listing? Imagine the Captain’s Gala Dinner where all the passengers are accessorized with crystal-studded flashlights! If you’re that worried about another Titanic-style disaster, maybe you ought to think about a land vacation, not a holster for your flashlight!
Another odd thing that occured to me was that many people are superstitious and Italians enthusiastically embrace their superstitious beliefs. If you think I’ve made that one up, be one of four people standing together saying goodbye. When two people of the foursome reach out to shake hands, try shaking hands with the remaining person by reaching across the outstretched hands of the two clutching hands as you form a plus sign (+) or a cross with your two sets of outstretched arms. The shrieks from the Italians in that group will knock you off your feet. It seems that shaking hands in the + pattern is very bad luck. No one has yet offered a cogent reason as to how this became a sinister act but just don’t do it!
Good luck, on the other hand, is garnered by spinning around on the heel of your shoe as you grind that heel into the testicles of the mosaic bull pictured in the floor of the Vittorio Emanuelle gallery, a very busy and beautiful shopping arcarde, which is supposed to make the “spinner” more fertile or help a woman find a husband before the end of the year. You’ll have some feeling for how many people have done this when you evaluate how the depth of the hole in the mosaic where the tile has been worn away on the sensitive parts of this bull. The wearing of charms and red ribbons to ward off ‘the evil eye’ and other carriers of ill wishes is also quite common, and frankly, who can say that a little bit of extra insurance against evil-wishers isn’t a good idea!
So with that in mind, how did this ship with over 3000 passenger and 1000 crew sail out on Friday the 13th? Not ony didn’t they look at the sophisticated equipment on the bridge that would have warned of impending disaster, nobody looked at a calendar when they were putting the itinerary together.
And if you think this situation is a stand-alone incident, read my next blog. I think the only reason we heard about this is that there were deaths. So many incidents in cruising, because they happen in international waters and the incidents are isolated in a big container in a controlled environment, a lot gets hushed up by cruise lines and never sees the light of day. Such is the case with crimes on board cruise ships that never get the kind of attention that land crimes get because they are sequestered and contolled in a way that generally doesn’t happen on land except in destinations where the politicians and media conspire to keep stories quiet in the interest of the local economy. And that, I am sorry to say, happens all too frequently.
More to follow. . .
We’re makin’ waves providing you with updates, insights, tips, & recommendation for your travels worldwide. . .
--Gotta Fly Now!sm
Your Personal Travel Expert
Nationally syndiated radio show host