Update on Costa Concordia: 11 Now Dead, Environmental Concerns


Photo by Susan J. Young

The Italian Coast Guard has revised upward the number of passengers and crew who are still  missing from Costa Concordia. That number, which was most recently 16, has been raised to 24.

Most of the missing are passengers from France, Germany, Italy and the United States; a husband and wife from White Bear, MN are among those. Four crew members are also missing. UPDATE: USA Today reports that five more bodies have been discovered by divers in the wreck, bringing the total of confirmed dead to 11.

Time is of the essence in finding any more guests or crew alive. It's been days since the Costa Concordia hit an underwater object or reef off the coast of Giglio, Italy. Since then, search-and-rescue teams and divers have been going through the ship’s interior looking for missing guests and crew.

Explosives and the Environment

The BBC (www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-16587849) is reporting today that divers have now used “controlled” explosives to blast small holes both above and below the water line to gain quicker entry into hard-to-reach places inside the vessel.

One reason? The ship has shifted a bit since the accident. Concerns are rising, both for the searchers’ safety and the threat of any environmental damage.

Costa yesterday said there was no environmental impact as yet, but that it certainly had concerns. Apparently, so do Italian officials as Italy is declaring a national “state of emergency” to free up funding to help avert any potential environmental problems. 

The BBC story said an Italian environmental officer reported that the ship is leaking a liquid, but  he had no confirmation that it was fuel.

Captain In Court

Arriving at a courthouse in Grosseto, Italy, this morning, Capt Francesco Schettino went before a magistrate in a closed hearing. Schettino is in custody and accused of abandoning ship before all passengers were evacuated.

Given the multiple charges he could face, the captain could be looking at up to 15 years in prison, according to Italian prosecutor Francesco Verusio.

Schettino has vigorously denied those charges through his attorney. Costa is providing the captain with legal representation, but has also distanced itself from their officer, stating that he not only took the ship off course from its planned route, but that he failed to follow the line’s procedures.

One Italian newspaper ran a partial transcript of what it said is a black box transmission between the captain and the Italian coast guard. Later, Verusio publicly confirmed to the media that it matches one he is using in court actions, according to CNN (www.cnn.com/2012/01/17/world/europe/italy-ship-captain/index.html?hpt=hp_t1).

The Italian newspaper reported the transmission as follows: “You must get back on board.... You have to coordinate the rescue operation. Commander, this is an order," the unnamed Coast Guard officer tells Schettino. "I'm [the Coast Guard] in charge. You have abandoned ship and now you are going to the [ship] and coordinate the work.”

The Fall-Out

Is all the negative publicity surrounding the accident deterring people from booking a cruise? Initial reports Travel Agent gathered yesterday seemed to be saying “no” but travel agents, owners and consortia/franchise leaders acknowledge it’s still a bit too early to tell for the long term.

That said, SodaHead.com, which bills itself as the Web’s largest opinion-based community, ran a consumer poll to determine if the general public was now “less likely to take a cruise given the incident.” Approximately 26 percent of the more than 1,000 people polled said “yes, I am less likely to cruise.”

Yet, that also means the vast majority said “no, I am not less likely to cruise.” Younger travelers between 25 and 34 years old were less likely (only 14 percent) to say the accident would impact future cruise plans while 34 percent of those over 65 said they are less likely to cruise.

Results of the poll are at: www.sodahead.com/united-states/5-dead-15-missing-in-italian-shipwreck-are-you-less-likely-to-take-a-cruise-given-the-costa-concor/question-2396567/

Michelle Fee, co-founder and CEO, Cruise Planners, says that in her 30-year travel industry career, "it's the first time I’ve ever been affected by the sinking of a modern luxury cruise ship. The fact that it is Wave Season and the offers are the best of the year….it might take suppliers to have to 'sweeten' the deal to the consumer even further to get us over this hump, but it will happen."

Fee says she doesn't think experienced cruisers will panic, but new cruisers be more hesitant. Will it change the way her agents sell? 

"It will probably be on the customers' mind, so it’s our job as an industry to send a message that although this was a tragedy, it was an isolated incident, and cruising is probably, if not, the safest mode of transportation and vacation," Fee stresses. "We never had to really include that in our 'marketing messaging' in the past, but this incident might change that."

CLIA Statement

Cruise Lines International Association (www.cruising.org) issued a brief statement about the accident yesterday on its Web site. The statement reiterated basic facts about the accident and included a portion of the Carnival Corp. statement.

CLIA’s statement also said the following: “Accidents such as this one are an extremely rare occurrence in the cruise industry, and cruising continues to be one of safest means of travel among all types of vacationing. CLIA and all its member cruise lines join with Costa and Carnival in extending our most sincere condolences to all those affected by this terrible tragedy. We will continue to keep our travel agent members updated as we receive further information.”

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