Carnival Still in Denial on Passenger Safety

By Karen

After Costa Concordia capsized in January, exposing slipshod safety practices that contributed to 32 fatalities, you’d think Costa’s parent, Carnival Corp., would be fanatical about safety now. Especially on Carnival line ships, whose Italian captains must overcome the shame of Concordia’s incompetent master, Francesco Schettino.

I just spent 6 days on Carnival Glory, and saw first-hand Carnival’s current safety measures.

My cabin TV welcomed me with a safety video on endless loop, with Captain [Italian Name] delivering the intro and closing. I must have heard a dozen times to look for crew members wearing green fluorescent caps in an emergency.

Glory was scheduled to sail at 5 p.m., with the lifeboat drill at 4:30 on Deck 4.

At 4:20, on Deck 8 I saw a crewman directing able-bodied passengers to elevators down to Deck 4 — it’s stairs-only in any emergency.

On Deck 4, this sign left the lifeboats’ exact location a mystery…

Letters stand for muster stations. Arrow points to an “Emergency Only” door.

This part of the sign was reproduced on walls throughout the ship, like it means anything…

The blurriness is mine, but you get the drift. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Somebody finally opened the “Emergency Exit Only” door (forbidden for passengers), revealing the “secret” outer lifeboat deck.

This 952-ft. ship was divided into only 8 muster stations, 4 on each side, leaving wide open expanses with no signs (screw the near-sighted). Nobody knew where to go. At 4:40, a few young crewmen in orange vests (not green caps) began straggling in and herding us.

Each muster station was assigned multiple lifeboats, whose numbers were read to us later as an afterthought — as if anybody would remember them.

Now, let’s do the math: Glory holds 2,974 passengers and 1,150 crew, so each muster station must accommodate about 372 passengers and 144 crew (if they want to survive), or 516 souls in all.

I saw 2 crewmen at my station to handle that mob.

The drill/lecture was conducted from the bridge not by the captain, but by a young English-speaker. (Nor did the captain verbally preside over the 3 crew drills they presumably had during that voyage. I assume his Italian accent is considered a problem.)

On any other ship, an emergency signal consists of 7 short blasts followed by one long blast of the ship’s whistle.

Glory’s was 5 short, a long pause, then one more short, then one long.

The bridge voice kept saying drill attendance and our complete silence were mandatory. Then he’d go silent for so long, it seemed he’d forgotten us. In the meantime, we were just standing in silence, being told nothing on Deck 4.

Later I learned the protracted silences weren’t due to any sweep of the ship to get all passengers to the drill; I met a couple who stayed in their cabin. Nor was roll taken at muster stations to verify our presence. I’ve seen both procedures on other ships.

We didn’t wear life jackets, nor did anyone learn how to don and tie one because the crewman who demonstrated was standing in a dark area in the bow and made no effort to be seen. Lockers of life jackets lined the deck (locked, presumably, and I imagine rotsa ruck finding anybody with a key), but we were told to return to our cabins for our jackets in a pinch — because that worked so well for the obedient Concordia passengers whose corpses were found underwater in theirs.

The drill took 45 minutes, delayed sailing, and taught anybody NOTHING. If I hadn’t attended good drills on other ships, I’d have been irate.

Many passengers on Glory were taking their first cruise, and thank God it was uneventful, because if you don’t know how to save yourself on a Carnival ship, you’re doomed to a watery grave.

6 Responses to Carnival Still in Denial on Passenger Safety

  1. Zappa's Mom says:

    WHAT???? I am completely confused and shocked!

    BTW where did you go?

  2. catsworking says:

    ZM, I sailed from Norfolk, Va., to the Bahamas (Freeport and Nassau). It rained almost the whole time. Didn’t leave the ship in Freeport because it was monsoon-like. Spent only 2 hours getting soaked in Nassau. But I needed to get away. It was my first week off in 2 1/2 years.

    I didn’t say anything about it beforehand because it’s not good to advertise your absence when any nut can look up your address online.

    This lifeboat drill stands among the MOST ridiculous I’ve ever been to (although the one where they had us go to the ship’s theater, sans life jackets, to watch 2 crew joke around on stage and demo wearing a jacket was a close second — I believe that was on Royal Caribbean).

    Life jackets aren’t totally straightforward to put on, and all passengers should know exactly where the lifeboats are and how to get to them. In the “olden” days, you were assigned to a specific lifeboat. That way, crew had fewer people to herd. And ships had clear signs directing you to the boats.

    I’ve emailed a link to this post to the president of Carnival. We’ll see if it gets any response.

  3. Zappa's Mom says:

    Between this and Norwalk virus outbreaks,Im gonna stay home

  4. catsworking says:

    ZM, in reality, cruising is FAR safer than virtually any land-based vacation. But every time there’s an incident on a ship, the media goes into a frenzy. People get norovirus and food poisoning every day in a LOT of places we never hear about.

    Costa Concordia certainly deserved all the bad press it got, but something like 13 million Americans cruise every year and experience only a tiny fraction of the crime and injury experienced by people on land.

    Norovirus doesn’t come from dirty ships, but from dirty passengers. There are hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere, but I’d say 90% of passengers walk right by them.

    I was concerned about Noro myself this time (it being Carnival — with certain animal-like passengers behaving badly — but that’s another story). I figured the safest strategy was to avoid the buffets because people do the most disgusting things to the food, not to mention dicey ingredients being left out for extended periods. The fewer people potentially handling your food, the better. I had room service for breakfast every day, lunch at buffet stations where the food was cooked to order and handed to you, and dinner in the dining room.

    Cruise lines that belong to CLIA (Cruise Line International Assoc.), which would be all the lines you’ve ever heard of, are saying since Concordia they have agreed to enact more stringent safety measures than the U.S. Coast Guard requires. But I think Carnival did a piss-poor job of educating first-time cruisers on how to abandon ship. And the very fact that passengers can’t SEE where the lifeboats are because they’re hidden behind emergency doors is a major ship design flaw.

    On Glory, you can get outside to a promenade on Deck 3 where you can see the underside of the lifeboats (and in a pinch jump onto the roof of one as it’s being lowered), but on at least 2 of our 3 sea days, that deck was OFF LIMITS to passengers because they were supposedly cleaning it. So many passengers probably never knew it exists.

    No word from Carnival’s president yet.

  5. May I post your story on Cruise Law News (and the cruise line response) and provide credit to you of course? I’m posting it to Twitter now.

  6. catsworking says:

    Yes, Jim. And welcome.

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