Cruise accident makes waves

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The record numbers of large cruiseships calling at Norwegian ports are raising new concerns, in the wake of last weekend’s capsizing of a Costa vessel off Italy. The huge vessels with thousands of passengers of board suddenly pose an equally huge risk, to the environment and local ability to respond to an accident. Meanwhile, the Norwegian owners and operators of cruise lines like Royal Caribbean face huge losses.

Costa is among the cruise operators calling on Oslo, with large vessels and thousands of passengers and crew. PHOTO: Views and News

Norwegian labour groups, search and rescue officials and environmental organizations were among those voicing concerns in local media on Tuesday, after the large Costa Concordia grounded and capsized off the Italian island of Giglio. By Tuesday afternoon, the death toll had risen to 11 and fears were rising that the vessel would unleash a major oil spill.

Costa is among the cruise lines regularly sailing along the Norwegian coast in the summer cruise season, calling also on Oslo. Some of the vessels, including the new Royal Caribbean ships, can have several thousand passengers and crew on board.

“If, for example, a ship with 4,000 passengers capsizes off the coast of Norway, and the passengers need to be picked up from lifeboats, the sheer magnitude would be a challenge,” Hans Sande, managing director of the Norwegian officers’ association Norsk Sjøoffisersforbund, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “Therefore it’s important to reduce the probability of accidents, with among things clear markings of shallow water, skerries and good overviews of traffic.”

Sande doesn’t think the ships’ size itself is a problem, as long as crews on board are prepared to tackle an emergency situation, and have constant training and drilling in routines. “Large ships are built to accommodate more people and make operations more profitable,” Sande said. “But even though the ships are large, the dynamics are the same and international regulations demand sea-worthiness and stability. Cruiseships are also subject to ongoing inspection and safety controls.”

The capsizing of the Costa Concordia is, however, very bad for the entire cruise industry and stock in companies running cruise lines sunk dramatically early this week. Carnival of the US, which owns Costa, lost 19 percent of its value on Monday morning and RCCL, which owns Royal Caribbean and has long had Norwegian investors, was down around 8 percent. “When an accident like this happens, it hits the whole sector,” said one analyst at DNB Markets at Oslo.

January and February are also when many customers book cruises for later in the year, so the timing of the accident can seriously damage sales. “An accident can change consumption patterns,” Jørn Kjørsvik of Terra Markets told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Both he and other analysts were advising investors to sell cruise shares.

“We think the risk of holding RCCL during the next few days is too high,” Kjørsvik told DN. “The extent of the damage isn’t clear yet. We don’t know how sales will be affected. But we may recommend the share again, when things clear up.”

There also were reports Tuesday that several groups of passengers are already planning to sue Costa, for losses and injuries they suffered, or sheer trauma. Evacuation of the ship was reported to be chaotic and frightening, and some passengers panicked and jumped into the water. One Norwegian passenger who returned home safely on Monday told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) she would never go on a cruise again.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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