Fabian Demicoli

Cruise Ship Calamity prompts safety reviews

 Siim Kallas, the European commissioner for transport, will brief members of the European Parliament's transport committee on Tuesday on EU rules on passenger ship safety in the light of the capsize of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. 

 

On Monday, the commissioner expressed his condolences and said that the Commission was engaged in a "full check of complex passenger ship safety rules [and] will make proposals during 2012".

The cruise ship capsized after it hit a rock off the Tuscan coast leaving some passengers dead and some still missing. International journeys such as the Concordia cruise are covered by International Maritime Organization (IMO) rules, while journey's within a country's own waters are covered by EU rules. The EU has the ability to go further than the IMO rules for international journeys, and it has done so in the past, for instance with ferries carrying passengers and cars. But rules on the construction of vessels rest solely with the IMO.

The Commission has been conducting a review since last year to see if the existing rules are fit for purpose. Some of the rules date from the 1990s and the dramatic increase in ship size and passenger numbers may mean rules on the stability of vessels or the training of seafarers need to be updated, a Commission official said. In 2000, the average cruise liner had 1,000 passengers. Today that number is 6,000.

Some Commission efforts to change rules on training of seafarers have been rejected by the Parliament, such as a requirement that people working on passenger ships speak English. Some non-Italian-speaking passengers on the Concordia have complained that the evacuation was chaotic and fraught with communication problems.

Ecology threat

The ship is on the edge of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the largest marine protected area in Italy. The danger of it slipping off the rock shelf into deeper water has prompted warnings of an ecological disaster, since the ship was loaded with heavy fuel and harmful chemicals.

Efforts are under way to extract the oil, but could take as long as four weeks. The Commission has offered to help with any environmental clean-up, but so far no assistance has been requested by the Italian government.

Environmental groups and the Italian environment minister have called for restrictions on cruise ship activity. Italian campaign group Marevivo said the industry has a widespread practice of sailing too close to shore "to create a picturesque setting both on board and on land". But the European Cruise Council said that its members "are subject to the highest safety standards around the world".

 

 

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