Paris - The Titanic was the pride of the industry when it went down off
the coast of Canada on its maiden voyage a hundred years ago with the
loss of 1 514 lives, a giant of a ship.
These days, the trend is
for even bigger and grander vessels, especially in the cruise line
industry, but even with all the technology available to today's
shipbuilders, the dangers remain.
Thirty-two passengers died when
the Italian luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia ran aground off the
coast of Italy on January 13.
And although the ship's captain has
been in the firing line over his conduct, maritime union Nautilus
International has warned against a rush to judgment, arguing that other
factors may have played a part.
The Costa disaster raised
questions about whether safety considerations have kept pace with the
quest for grandiose, top-of-the-range, floating leisure palaces.
Trend not slowing
accident has hit sales too: both Carnival, the company that owns Costa
Cruises which ran the Concordia, and its main rival in the cruise
industry, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (RCCL), have reported a drop in
The demand for bigger and bigger cruise liners
comes as the industry bets on luxurious, floating seaside resorts as the
best way to draw in customers.
Of the 13 ships launched last
year, four of them were liners with a capacity of at least 2 500
passengers, and of the 15 vessels scheduled for launch this year there
will be at least another five on this grand scale.
Nor is there any sign of the trend slowing.
March, Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) ordered a 333m long cruise
liner with a capacity of 5 700 passengers. Days later, RCCL ordered
another designed for 4 200 passengers.
Compare that with the
Titanic, the queen of the seas in its day: it was 270m long and capable
of taking 3 300 passengers and crew.
Industry executives have
been quick to put the Costa disaster in perspective, arguing that it
represented the exception rather than the rule.
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has cited figures from
industry specialist GP Wild to say that in the 10 years before the
Concordia accident only 28 people died on cruise ships, 22 of them crew
The European Cruise Council, citing the same GP Wild
report, said that even including the Costa deaths, the death rate since
2002 ran at 0.2 per million.
But international industry
associations have nevertheless ordered safety audits in the industry to
see what can be done to raise standards.
Erminio Eschena, general
director of MSC Cruises France, one of the industry's spokesmen in
Europe, has acknowledged that in the wake of the Concordia accident
there is a need to reassure customers.
But some maritime officials remain uneasy at current developments.
Loiseau, president of the French Association of Naval Captains (AFCAN),
has condemned what he calls the "tendency towards gigantism" in the
Referring to the Concordia accident, he argued that
"even in the best conditions, with such a size you won't ever be able to
A growing market
Nautilus International, while not opposed to larger vessels as such, has expressed concern about their design and construction.
technology of evacuation likewise needs looking at because of the
acknowledged shortcomings of lifeboats and life rafts," it said in a
But the cruise liner industry is drawn to the economies of scale that such massive vessels make possible.
each has an eye on competition in what is a growing market: the
industry attracted a record 16 million passengers worldwide in 2011,
with American customers leading the way.
Europe accounts for six million of those passengers, with the British the biggest fans.
Cruises has enjoyed spectacular growth in recent years, from 363 000
passengers in 2000 (German and Spanish subsidiaries included) to 2.89
million in 2010.
MSC still hopes to double its business over the
next few years. And while companies want to stay with the big ships,
they are thinking now in terms of vessels that are shorter, but