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The European Commission and cruise operators are set this week to restrict access to ships’ bridges and tighten monitoring of watertight doors amid the most comprehensive revamp so far of passenger ship safety following January’s Costa Concordia tragedy.
The new steps are designed to prevent some of the failings that appear to have led the Concordia, owned by a subsidiary of the US’s Carnival Corporation, to hit rocks off the Italian coast and capsize on January 13. The incident killed at least 30 people, while a further two remain missing.
Siim Kallas, the EU transport commissioner, is expected to tell a passenger ship safety conference on Tuesday that the ultimate aim must be that, wherever a passenger boards a ship in the world, safety should be at “the highest possible level”.
“Passengers should expect the same safety standards whether they are crossing on an overnight ferry from Sweden to Finland, or sailing from Malta to Sicily on a day trip,” he will say.
The tightening up of safety announced at the conference will fall into two parts – three voluntary commitments from the European Cruise Council, the industry trade body, and two sets of instructions from the Commission to member states over inspections of ships in port.
None of the steps is expected to involve significant cost.
The cruise council is expected to propose closer monitoring of access to ships’ bridges to ensure that unnecessary visitors are excluded.
The trade body is also likely to commit itself to undertaking more rigorous pre-planning of vessels’ routes and monitoring of whether they have been followed.
Access to bridges has emerged as a key issue after it emerged that Francesco Schettino, the Concordia’s captain, had invited Domnica Cemortan, a young Moldovan tour operator, on to the ship’s bridge before it ran aground.
A tightening of route planning and monitoring is aimed at ensuring vessels are less likely in future to undertake the kind of highly dangerous manoeuvre that led the Concordia to hit rocks in shallow water.
It is also proposed that vessels should also in future carry more life jackets in more positions around the vessel, to reduce the time and walking involved in finding a life jacket.
The Commission will ask member states to check more closely on vessels’ procedures for recording who is on board, after substantial initial confusion about who was on board the Concordia.
It will also ask them to pay more attention to the use of watertight doors in ship bulkheads, to ensure they are opened only when strictly necessary. The step should improve the chances of containing any influx of water when a hull is breached.
International cruise organisations moved immediately after the Concordia disaster to ensure passengers had to hold “muster drills” to practise evacuation before ships departed. Passengers that embarked at Civittavecchia the night before the Concordia disaster had not performed the safety drill, though those who came a board earlier had done it.
A person involved indicated the Commission’s account of the cruise industry’s commitments was broadly correct. The cruise council declined to comment.