VIEWPOINT: Let’s Get Real About Cruise Safety

by Eric Goldring
VIEWPOINT: Let’s Get Real About Cruise Safety

Luxury cruise seller Eric Goldring puts last week’s events on the Carnival Triumph in perspective for his fellow travel agents.

Bad things happen. For agents, making sure the rarity of the Carnival Triumph situation is understood by clients is only the first part of our job.

Acknowledging the Carnival Triumph situation is “bad” – and then looking at it realistically as an opportunity to show how the cruise industry is evolving positively and how cruise ship design bodes well for the cruise guest (though without looking through rose-colored glasses) – is key.

Eric Goldring
eric goldring

Consider the positives
Maybe because I suffered through Superstorm Sandy and went two weeks without electricity (save a small generator), heat or water, it is a bit easier for me to focus on positives such as:
•    the compliments given to the Carnival staff and crew
•    the ship’s officers keeping guests well-informed (even if not minute-by-minute as some craved)
•    Carnival Corp. focusing on passenger retention rather than the first-quarter bottom line, by offering a refund, hotel and transportation, free cruise, plus $500. (That is far better than my power company sending me an estimated bill for a full month’s electricity for the period I went without power, while communication during the Sandy ordeal itself was nil.)

The fact is the safety systems worked. In these very rare instances, the laws and safety regulations do not require the cruise to continue unabated, but rather that everyone be kept safe.

We don’t know why there was a fire or why the engines failed, but we do know that nobody died or was even seriously injured.  Though not pristinely, everyone was kept safe, hydrated and fed until they were returned to port.

Just the facts, please
Some perspective:  How rare is this sort of event? CNN reports that there were four fires aboard cruise ships in 2011; there were two fatalities, both crew members, in one of those instances. In 2010 and 2009 there was one fire-related incident, with no serious injuries.

In fact, in the decade ending in 2011, there were 223 million cruise passengers, with only 28 deaths (crew and passenger). That is safer than driving or flying to the cruise port!

What’s not being said
Now, the unspoken truth: Making a cruise ship that could continue to operate in this sort of (very rare) situation would be so expensive that the contemporary cruise market would collapse.  

The changes required would cost a huge amount of money, both in design and equipment costs. Moreover, the design changes required would reduce passenger space on the ship significantly. With four-day Carnival cruises starting at less than $300, the math is not difficult – something would have to give.

And we must remember, with the Carnival Triumph ordeal, we are not talking about saving lives, but improving passenger comfort – nothing more.

The price of passenger comfort
To this last point, ensuring passenger comfort, this is a discussion that is had whenever a new ship (or plane or car) is built.

How do I know this? In addition to being a luxury travel agent, I am also a superyacht attorney. In 2008, I was on a Global Superyacht Forum panel with the largest maritime regulatory authorities. During that discussion I asked how much money should be spent on safety regulations that don’t actually save more lives, given that those regulations make the cost of building a ship (or your car) prohibitively expensive, thus destroying the market?

Are design changes needed?
Carnival has shown that, from a customer relations point of view, it has learned from past failings. It is my hope that, from this latest bad event, design changes will evolve that improve passenger comfort during rare events such as the Triumph’s engine failure.

But we also must remember that on the Triumph, while some passengers in the lowest cabins did have to sleep on deck, the photos show that most decks were clear, because literally thousands of the Carnival Triumph passengers slept safely in their balcony cabins.  

I heard one Triumph passenger, commenting on whether he would cruise on Carnival again, say, “Sure. Why wouldn’t I take that free cruise?!”  He said it because cruising is fun. Cruising is a great value. And cruising is safe.

Eric Goldring, owner of Goldring Travel in Colts Neck, N.J., is a luxury travel agent specializing in cruise with a worldwide client base. He has an extensive background in the maritime industry. Eric writes and speaks frequently on issues affecting the cruise and superyacht industries. Read his blog here.

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