Everyone by now knows of the events surrounding the Costa Concordia. From the sinking of that ship, there has been much debate about the safety of ships, particulary in Brussels. I attended the Stakeholders meeting on Ships Safety issues at the end on April, following my discovery that the EU Commission had commenced such an enquiry in 2010! Those of us who were unaware of that 'Consultation' were met with a room full of ships and cruise industry personnel who sought to drown out the debate on other topics such as crime on-board cruise ships, sanitation programs and child protection! The discussion centred in on ships design, lifeboats and their drills, staff training and so on. We were treated to the 'exalted' view that the shipping industry were already over-regulated and had successfully mounted safety programs on the back of 'self-regulation'! If things are so good, then perhaps now is the time to reflect on the following Consumer story!
Mr Z and his wife went on a major European river cruise and experienced an emergency situation with a fire on-board their large river boat; his holiday complaints are as follows:
- The fire was alleged to have started in a cigarette butt;
- Information suggested however that the source of the fire came from the engine room;
- The fire alarms went off at 3am;
- The electricity was cut off so they had to stumble around in darkness;
- There were no emergency lights;
- They realised that there was smoke in their cabin;
- There were elderly on-board who received no assistance from crew and were aided by passengers;
- No crew apparently came to evacuate the passengers from their cabins;
- The crew they met apparently spoke little English;
- Corridors were full of smoke;
- The passengers had no way of knowing whether they were walking towards the flames or not;
- Some of the crew were found huddled together in the reception area apparently crying;
- The crew did not appear to know which way the passengers should go to their muster stations;
- When Mr Z got to the deck he noted that it was raining and the river was rough;
- Despite bringing their life jackets, the crew told them they did not need to put them on;
- The passengers waited on the deck for 2 hours whilst another boat came to 'rescue' them;
- Passengers were clearly overcome by smoke with many showing soot coming through their nasal passages;
- The passengers have been offered a full refund and 50% off their next cruise within a month OR 25% off a future cruise (have they I wonder suggested to the passengers that they should seek independent advices before accepting this 'generous' offer?)!
- There has been no advice/guidance given as to the nature of the fire, the smoke and toxins they could have been exposed to!
I have no doubt that there will be those who will seek to make the distinction between a major boat cruise on a river to an ocean going vessel, but surely they must accept that there are parallels with the experience of passengers on the Costa Concordia and Mr Z's traumatic event? It would be well for the Politicians of Westminster and Brussels to take heed of Mr Z's story, because if they seriously believe the soothing words of the cruise industry above other opinion, then it is extremely likely that another hurried meeting in Brussels will have to be arranged; will the Consumer be so forgiving next time?