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March 13th, 2012

Cruise Line Tragedy Spotlights Lack of Regulations

Close to a dozen people, including crew members and passengers, have been confirmed dead in the deadly Costa Concordia cruise line accident last week. While people have been seeing horrific images of the overturned vessel and the rescue operations, the New York Times is drawing attention to what maritime lawyers know is a serious problem – the lack of regulation in the cruise line industry.

The tragedy is being blamed on a decision by Captain Francesco Schettino to deviate from his fixed course. The cruise liner had more than 4,200 passengers and crew members on board. It ran aground, hitting a reef, and turning what was meant to be a leisurely Mediterranean cruise vacation, into a nightmare. The official death toll now is 11 people. Meanwhile, divers continue to check out the cabins of the partially submerged vessel for more bodies. More than 20 people are still unaccounted for, and that means the death toll could rise much further.

As the New York Times points out, it is now time to spotlight attention on concerns about the oversight of the cruise line industry.  There is no single international agency that is responsible for safe operation of cruise lines. As a result, there is very little consensus on the kind of safety training crew members and passengers should be exposed to, and responsibilities of the captain.

For instance, in this case, the captain used discretion to alter his set route with tragic consequences. Airline pilots take instructions from traffic controllers, but on the sea, captains of vessels have almost total control. There are computerized paths that captains must follow, but these are nowhere as stringent as the flight plans that pilots are supposed to file before the takeoff.

In the wake of this deadly tragedy, it is important for international maritime agencies to review the safety of the cruise line industry.

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