Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Is cruising still safe? That ship hasn't yet sailed

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It is an industry that believes its best days are still ahead, with more cruise ships coming on stream or being commissioned to be built.

Yet the events of the last months have left people wondering if cruising is still safe.

What started with the Costa Concordia tragedy has led to a disturbingly ongoing series of events that have shaken people's confidence in the vacation option they once saw as both the safest and most enjoyable.

The worst of the events, the Concordia disaster, as bad as it was, did not affect potential cruisers' willingness to book cruises all that dramatically. Perhaps because of reports the accident may have been caused by a rogue captain who failed to follow policy, it was seen by many as a one-off occurrence.

Then came the unmitigated public-relations mess that was left in the wake of the Carnival Triumph fiasco that really focused attention on the Carnival Corporation, which also owns Costa cruise lines.

Carnival experienced a couple of less serious but highly publicized events that put the microscope clearly on that companies' fleet of ships.

More recently with the fire on board the Grandeur of the Seas, operated by the other cruise giant, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, the media really began to ask serious questions as to why it was happening with such frequency now, after so many years of perceived safe cruising.

The industry, particularly Carnival, for a period of time had been holding its own in terms of passenger sales with the introduction of massive price discounting.

CLIA, the cruise lines association, passed their own passenger's bill of rights to quell some of the fears consumers were expressing. Skepticism remained, however, because there are no real teeth in it and members may make their own interpretation of the policies in some cases.

In a recent Harris Research poll ,the industry's worst fears were confirmed.

While the numbers for Carnival are the worst, the poll that measured reactions to the seven major cruise brands identified by respondents, the trust quotient has been dramatically affected.

What is described as the 'Perceived Quality' score is down 13 per cent against what is was before the first Carnival fire.

Worse still for the industry is purchase intent has dropped by 11 per cent.

So is the cruise industry failing us and should we be looking to other ways to spend our hard-earned dollars for the vacations we deserve?

I think the industry has partly failed its loyal consumers by cutting costs in on-board maintenance to raise the bottom line. They have, while preaching safety, allowed themselves to be lulled by their own success, not believing the kinds of events that occurred could happen ever, let alone more than once.

But is cruising still safe? Will I continue to go on more itineraries in both the near and far future?

The cruise industry has been given a dramatic boot in the derri®re and is moving quickly to upgrade their on-ship technologies. They have already introduced practices to improve safety procedures.

Just as every event in Mexico became major national news some time back after Canadians were killed in the country, the same scrutiny is happening now relating to cruise events. There is a natural inclination to place every event, big or small, in a pattern that leads to the conclusion that suggests the industry has fallen apart in its safety commitment.

Let there be no mistake -- the events that occurred were unacceptable and should not have occurred. I do not want to leave any perception of a whitewash or that we should look at them with a 'devil may care' attitude.

But thousands and thousands of itineraries around the world are followed weekly by dozens of ships in all the major seas of the world.

Like airline accidents, when one does occur its impact usually affects many people at one time.

One of the reasons given for some of the perceived laxness of cruise-line vigilantes comes with the fact most cruise companies are registered in countries with few policies on how they operate. But now the U.S. government is looking at passing legislation that would establish policies for any cruise ship sailing into ports in the United States.

The reporting of events on board cruise ships needs to be tightened and be more transparent.

However, consider the reality that cruise ships today are often carrying the population of a small city, especially when both passenger and crew numbers are combined. It becomes an especially large one when the sum total is multiplied by the number of ships on the seas at any given time, plus the number of itineraries sailed over a 52- week period.

The Harris numbers still show confidence in cruising, albeit less than before all of the events that garnered so much publicity recently.

But the industry will recover, as they themselves demonstrate through their continued investments in new and bigger ships.

They are following their procedures, and confidence will return to previous levels.

In the meantime, I will be on the lookout for the bargain pricing that will see both old and new cruisers capturing the unique, most positive experience that comes with an ocean voyage.

Ron Pradinuk is president of Journeys Travel & Leisure SuperCentre and can be heard Sundays at noon on CJOB. Previous columns and tips can be found at or read Ron's travel blog at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 E2

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