If last year’s Costa Concordia disaster, which cost the lives of dozens of people when the ship went down off the west coast of Italy, didn’t turn down the dials on the $35 billion industry, which caters to 20 million people every year, the Triumph is unlikely to leave a lasting impression, once the news cycle moves on. (The Costa Concordia was also a Carnival ship.)

Going to sea has always had an air of adventure. But the impressive-looking cruise ships, which cost around half a billion dollars to build and can hold as many as 8,500 passengers, are meant to cushion the extremes of seafaring. However, the culture of the maritime industry is in many ways stuck in the past and in need of the kind of reforms that in recent decades have made vast improvements in the auto and aviation industries.

Last month, the Federal Aviation Administration grounded the entire U.S. fleet of Boeing 787s over fire-safety concerns. Where was the maritime equivalent of the FAA when it came to the troubled Triumph, which passengers say had a history of problems before it went adrift in the Gulf of Mexico?

Jim Hall, head of the National Transportation Safety Board during the Clinton administration, says the industry is watched over by “paper tigers” like the International Maritime Organization and suffers from “bad actors” much like in the poorly regulated motor-coach industry, which saw its latest fatal bus crash in Southern California earlier this month. “The maritime industry is the oldest transportation industry around. We’re talking centuries. It’s a culture that has never been broken as the aviation industry was, and you see evidence of that culture in the [Costa Concordia] accident,” says Hall.

Ships may seem and feel American but are mostly “flagged” in countries like the Bahamas or Panama in order to operate outside of what he says are reasonable safety standards. “It is, and has been, an outlaw industry,” says Hall. “People who book cruises should be aware of that.”

After all, how many fires are acceptable? The Carnival corporation is not alone when it comes to cruise-ship fires, but the Triumph was the fourth fire on a Carnival ship in recent years that resulted in a loss of power. There was the Carnival Ecstasy fire in 1998 that blackened its entire stern (luckily it caught fire within site of port in Miami). There was the Tropicale fire the following year that left that ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for two days with a tropical storm approaching.

In 2006 a fire on the Star Princess, which was operated by a subsidiary of Carnival, Princess Cruises, damaged 100 cabins and led to litigation over the death of a passenger who suffered inhalation-related cardiac arrest, settled before trial. (Princess admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement.) Then there was the Carnival Splendor generator fire in 2010, which left thousands of passengers enduring days without power in the waters off Mexico before the ship was towed to San Diego

The cruise industry vehemently disagrees. Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen says: “After studying the Carnival Splendor fire, we implemented a number of processes centered around fire prevention, system redundancies and protection, and training of our personnel.”
Still, there have been more fires. After the Splendor got in trouble, there was a fire aboard the Costa Allegra in the Indian Ocean in 2012, just a month after the Costa Concordia crash

Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Diaz, however, says that the previous malfunctions on Carnival Triumph “are one of the many factors we are considering in the investigation, along with whether the fire-suppression system worked, the actions of the crew, and much more.” Since the ship is flagged in the Bahamas, the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be in charge of the investigation. The National Transportation Safety Board will help with the investigation but has only 10 marine-safety investigators to deploy. “People imagine this will be like an aviation investigation, but it won’t,” warns Hall, the former chief of the safety board. Diaz, though, is undeterred. “An ‘autopsy’ isn’t exactly the right term, but we are doing as thorough an investigation as possible.”

In the days since the cruise ship finally arrived by tow in Mobile, Alabama, hundreds of passengers have been calling into Lipcon’s office for the class-action suit, with complaints including lung and respiratory problems, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, and panic attacks.


Author: Eve Conant            Source: The Daily Beast