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Following the Costa Concordia disaster, the first policy change has occurred within the industry, The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), an industry body covering pretty much every major cruise line in the world, today announced a new muster drill policy which will be mandatory for all member cruise lines. Here’s the new policy:

Current legal requirements for conducting a muster of passengers are found in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and mandate that a muster for embarking passengers occur within 24 hours of their embarkation. Notwithstanding the legal requirement, CLIA’s member cruise lines have identified a best practice effective immediately that calls for conducting the mandatory muster for embarking passengers prior to departure from port. On occasions when guests arrive after the muster has been completed, CLIA’s policy is that they be promptly provided with individual or group safety briefings that meet the requirements for musters applicable under SOLAS. This practice exceeds existing legal requirements and has been adopted by CLIA’s membership as a formal policy to help ensure that any mandatory musters or briefings are conducted for the benefit of all newly embarked passengers at the earliest practical opportunity.

In many instances the new policy will not result in any change from current practice. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a cruise where there wasn’t a muster drill after embarkation and before sailaway. Certainly that’s the only way I can remember it being done. I might have some issue with *how* it was done: I still remember a particularly poor one on Celebrity Solstice, but it was done. We went to our muster stations, we put our lifejackets on, and as a result we knew what to do if the general emergency signal is sounded.

The problem is more to do with ‘interporting’, where passengers embark at more than one port. This is common in the European cruise market, especially among Italian cruise lines including the market leaders Costa and MSC. Essentially their ships spend the season going round in circles. For example, on our first cruise on MSC Sinfonia we cruised out of Genoa to Naples, Palermo, Tunis, Palma, Barcelona and Marseilles, and the ship simply did that circuit for about six or seven months, week after week. MSC sold that cruise as a seven-night cruise from various starting point. I know that passengers embarked at Genoa and Barcelona, and I believe also Marseilles; Naples might also have been an embarkation port. Genoa was the principal port of embarkation where most passengers’ cruises began and ended, and for all of those passengers (including us) there was indeed a muster drill before we sailed. Indeed, it was in many ways the best we’ve ever done: not only did we muster somewhere but we were also taken out onto the deck and shown our lifeboat, and that’s the only time I’ve experienced that. But I’m pretty sure that those passengers embarking at the other ports didn’t get the same treatment: I certainly didn’t see any signs of it. Perhaps there was a briefing for them. One practical problem is that the ship’s services are closed for the muster drill: the bars, restaurants and shops close, the poolside entertainment stops, and passengers are rounded up to attend the drill. But if most passengers have already attended a full drill before leaving the main  port, not only are they not going to be interested in doing so again, they’re going to be a bit miffed if the ship’s services suddenly shut down just when they were fancying a drink and some poolside relaxation.

The relevance of this to the Costa Concordia disaster is clear. Concordia had that afternoon embarked some 600+ passengers at Civitavecchia, and at the time of the accident they had attended neither a drill nor a briefing. There wasn’t a drill because Civitavecchia wasn’t the main port on the cruise: that was Savona, the destination for the following day. I’m sure there would have been a full drill before departure from Savona each week, and perhaps the Civitavecchia embarkers would have been included in that, the following day: it would have just about been ‘within 24 hours of embarkation’. As it was, when the accident happened those 600 had not had either a drill or a briefing, and that may well have contributed to the problems. But I’m not sure what could have been done. Could some sort of briefing have been held before the ship left Civitavecchia? As I say, I don’t think the majority of the passengers (almost 3,000 of them) would have been pleased to see the ship’s facilities closed down, particularly if it was happening at several ports. And how would the relevant passengers even be identified? On ex-UK departures the crew practically round up any and all passengers and make sure they go to the drill before departure, but in that situation *all* of the passengers are newly-embarked and should be drilled. In the Costa Concordia situation four-fifths of the passengers would have already been to a drill or a briefing earlier in the cruise.

A difficult situation, then. I wonder, in fact, if interporting will be stopped? That would be a big change in the relevant markets.

Here’s a link to the CLIA main website, and another one to the page for the policy.

2 Responses to “Changes to muster drills”

  1. Costa Marcos says:

    Agreed that multiple ports of embarkation must add considerably to the administrative overhead of running timely muster drills. But I think possibly a bigger problem is the diversity of languages aboard many cruises. Remember the South Korean couple rescued from their cabin on the Concordia many hours after it went aground – I would think they had no idea what the messages relayed into their cabin were saying (in presumably a pretty random mixture of Italian, English and French?) Some better way of communicating to all passengers needs to be implemented – how about important messages sent to your mobile (in your native tongue) for starters?

    • Tom says:

      I agree: multiple languages on a ship are an issue in an emergency, amongst the crew as well as the passengers. I read the report into the Star Princess fire incident, and there was a comment in it that said that there was evidence that the range of languages among the fire-fighting teams had hampered their effectiveness, to some extent. In the end the teams sorted themselves into same-language units, but then they had problems communicating with officers.

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