MUN prof testifies at U.S. Congress

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Cruise expert chronicles concerns over safety, security

MUN professor and world cruise ship expert Ross Klein is shown in a file photo. Klein testified before a U.S. Senate committee this week on the safety of the world cruise ship industry. — Photo by Chris Hammond/ Courtesy Cruisejunkie.com

Ross Klein has testified before the U.S. government twice before on the cruise ship industry, but Thursday he was back again with the Costa Concordia disaster fresh in everyone’s minds.

Klein, a Memorial University professor and world expert on the cruise industry, appeared this week before the U.S. Senate Committee on commerce, science and transportation.

Although his oral presentation was short, he submitted a lengthy document detailing years of incidents and a litany of concerns including safety, security, medical treatment of passengers, labour practices and the effect the ships have on the environment.

Klein previously testified as the U.S. lawmakers prepared legislation.

Although passed, that legislation was changed from its original intent and he hopes it will now be fixed.

The cruise ship industry spent $3.5 million on lobbying last year, said Klein, who has taken some 30 cruises.

Klein told The Telegram the industry made it clear a decade ago he was unwelcome to continue cruising.

It will take a public outcry, he said, to change the attitude of the industry — and that means people letting the cruise lines know when they are dissatisfied, or even voting with their feet by not taking cruises, Klein told The Telegram.

Klein, who has published four books, said it was a privilege to be invited to testify.

His interest in cruise ships began as a child on a couple of family cruises.

The research geared up after he and his wife began taking cruises in the 1990s.

As a passenger, Klein said he learned there are inconsistencies in what the companies say they do and what actually happen, as well as that staff are poorly paid for long hours they log. And he said he was appalled that officers on cruise ships hustle women for dates.

The world was stunned by the images of the Costa Concordia, which partially sank after taking on water and severely listing in January. It hit a submerged rock off Giglio, Italy, after the captain deviated from the original route.

Some 4,200 people eventually got off the ship in a frenzied evacuation, but 25 were killed and seven missing and presumed dead.

Cap. Francesco Schettino, dubbed “Captain Coward” by some international media, is facing charges, including that he left his post before the evacuation.

But Klein said the cruise ship industry had become complacent.

“They run the problem of believing their own advertising that they claim they are the safest mode of commercial transportation,” Klein told The Telegram.

“They refuse to see things as they are. The industry wants (the disaster) to be viewed as it had nothing to do with  any safety of the cruise industry. They wanted it to be just some rogue captain.”

Under the Convention on Safety of Life at Sea — which dates to 1974 when the largest ships held 3,000 passengers and crew — the vessels must be able to be abandoned within 30 minutes.

Now cruise ships are massive, some holding as many as 9,000 passengers and crew.

Klein testified on the need to have drills and tests to determine whether the ships meet the requirements.

The disaster also calls into question crew training and the condition of life-saving equipment, Klein said.

“One of the problems that caused mass confusion was the multiple languages spoken,” he said.

“While there are conflicting reports, it also appears that crew members (some at least — there were many others who were notably heroic in their efforts) forgot their training and their responsibility by failing to keep passengers calm and by not providing sufficient assistance with getting to muster stations and getting off the ship. It isn’t just a matter of some senior officers not remaining onboard until all passengers and crew were safely evacuated, but also that there are some reports of crew members trading priority on lifeboats for money, and others leaving the ship before they had completed all of their responsibilities.”

The Costa Allegra, owned by the same company as the Costa Concordia, ran into trouble this week off Africa when fire broke out in the engine room.

Klein told The Telegram those type of incidents in the industry are not unusual, occurring a couple times of year.

The Allegra docked Thursday in the Seychelles, nearly three full days after the fire broke out in the ship’s generator room, leaving passengers without working toilets, running water or air conditioning in a region of the Indian Ocean pirates are known to prowl.

Klein also warned Congress that crew training for dealing with crime scenes onboard cruise ships is inadequate and that onboard security is not in a position to objectively investigate crimes.

He proposed security and safety changes, including the need for public reporting of all alleged crimes — running the gamut from thefts, assault, people going overboard and an alarming rate of sexual assaults.

Klein also reminded the U.S. Senate of concerns about medical staff qualifications.

He also noted a loophole in which cruise companies aren’t liable for medical malpractice.

And he urged greater vigilance in dealing with the spread of the disease norovirus.

As for environmental concerns, Klein remains alarmed over grey water and sewage discharge by cruise ships.

Because Canadian laws aren’t being enforced, he noted British Columbia  is referred to by some as the “toilet bowl” of the Alaska cruise corridor.

Discharges are some concern off the coast of this province, though Klein noted to The Telegram that Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t compare when it comes to cruise trade. 

 

bsweet@thetelegram.com with files from The Associated Press

Organizations: The Telegram, U.S. Senate Committee, U.S. Congress Convention on Safety of Life The Associated Press

Geographic location: U.S., Italy, Africa Seychelles Indian Ocean British Columbia Alaska Newfoundland and Labrador

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  • UK Observer
    March 03, 2012 - 10:25

    Ross Klein is well known as a campaigner rather than an as an expert. His views are biased and I am surprised that Congress called him to testify.

  • Andrew
    March 02, 2012 - 10:03

    Steve, its kind of hard to do research on the cruise ship industry without experiencing it firsthand. If you read a book on how to fly a plane without ever being on one, would that make you an expert in aviation?

  • Misty
    March 02, 2012 - 09:49

    I can't comment on the cruise industry as a whole but have taken several cruises on both Royal Caribbean and Norweigian cruiselines and have never encountered a problem. Staff are constantly cleaning, including handrails, elevators, dining areas etc. There is plenty of security apparent around the ship and I have never felt uncomfortable with either the performance of the vessels or the attitudes/actions of the officers and crew. Safety and providing a respectful and entertaining holiday has always appeared paramount in my experience.People must connsider their own safety, even when on holiday. The ships today are floating cities, and I suspect as with all cities, there will from time to time be problems. Given the sheer volume of cruises taking place from various ports throughout the year and the thousands of diverse people cruising each month the percentage of incidents is extremely low. Having said that, it is important to keep on top of things so the industry continues to make improvements where necessary. To me cruising is the ultimate vacation!!

  • Steve
    March 02, 2012 - 08:04

    If conditions are so dangerous, why has he taken over 30 cruises?