Cruise ship disaster not deterring local ‘cruisers’Just a few days after the first televised pictures showed the cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized and lying on its side off Italy’s Tuscan shore, Dr. Eugene and Meredith Byron of Grand Forks booked their fall 2012 cruise.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Just a few days after the first televised pictures showed the cruise ship Costa Concordia capsized and lying on its side off Italy’s Tuscan shore, Dr. Eugene and Meredith Byron of Grand Forks booked their fall 2012 cruise.
There is no hint of concern in his voice as the retired family practice physician relates his coming high seas itinerary.
“It’s a 75-day cruise from Seattle up through the Aleutian Islands,” he said, “to Japan and China, down to Australia and New Zealand, then up to Fiji and Tahiti and back home to San Diego.
“I added it up a while ago, and we’ve been over a year on the sea,” he said. “We’ve been out there, and we’re going out there again.”
The Jan. 13 cruise ship disaster in Italy appears to have had little effect on cruise bookings by local travel agencies, as agents report no cancellations or questioning calls from ticketed passengers worried about safety.
“I’m going myself on the biggest ship there is, Oasis of the Sea, in May,” said Roberta Stengl, an owner of Stengl Johnson Cruise and Travel.
‘Go for it’
Stengl said she has been on cruises to Alaska and in the Caribbean and has no qualms about taking another.
“Normally on cruise ships, the first thing you do is go through evacuation routes,” she said. “You sit in your cabin with your life vest on and they go through all the procedures.”
Char Brekke, of Brekke Travel, and Bonnie Rygg-Haley, of Bon Voyage Travel, both said they thought of the Titanic when they first saw televised images of the 4,200-passenger Costa Concordia lying on its side.
“I could not believe what was happening,” Rygg-Haley said. “Until we knew more about what had happened, I was very concerned.”
But “we’ve had no cancellations,” she said. “In fact, we haven’t even had any phone calls.”
Clearly, the deadly incident has not deterred the Byrons, who booked their Pacific Ocean cruise through Bon Voyage.
On their last cruise, in November, they sailed from Athens through the Suez Canal and on to India, passing through waters off Somalia where modern-day pirates have attacked and seized some ships and held passengers and crew hostage.
“It was a British ship, and they had strung concertina wire on the back and set up fire hoses,” he said. “They were prepared for those pirates.”
What advice would he have for someone contemplating a cruise but concerned about safety, especially after the Costa Concordia disaster?
“I’d say go for it,” he said. “The ships are pretty good about their safety procedures. They have these mustering places. And life is too short to let the 9/11 disasters and all these other worldly events limit you.”
Cruise ship bookings account for about 20 percent of Bon Voyage Travel’s business, including ocean cruises through the Panama Canal, trips to Alaska and Hawaii and other destinations and river cruises in Europe.
“The cruise industry has been hailed as the safest form of commercial transportation,” Rygg-Haley said. “I read recently that there have been 19 million passengers cruising in the past year without incident.”
The local response apparently mirrors what has happened elsewhere.
A week after the Costa Concordia struck rocks and capsized, an executive with the cruise ship industry told the Bloomberg news service that bookings had not dropped appreciably.
“From the travel agent community and our members we have not seen any significant reduction in activity,” said Christine Duffy, president and chief executive officer of the Cruise Lines International Association.
While insisting that large ships are safe, Duffy did call for a review of regulations by the International Maritime Organization, Bloomberg reported.
Website MainStreet.com reported this week that the sinking “has shaken would-be cruise travelers, and now the industry is working to assure customers that their ships are safe.”
The site reported that the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines sent an email Wednesday to travelers with bookings, stressing the company’s safety record, adherence to international safety and training standards and the experience of its captains.
Francesco Schettino, the Costa Concordia’s captain, was placed under house arrest Jan. 17, suspected of causing the wreck and abandoning the ship. Of the 4,200 passengers and crew members on board, at least 16 died and 16 others remain missing.
Travalliance, publisher of trade magazines for the travel industry, surveyed more than 1,500 travel agents online following the disaster. About 37 percent said they had been contacted by travelers, with about half expressing some safety concerns. About 10 percent asked about cancellation policies.
‘Scary to look at’
Kathryn Aubol, an agent at Monarch Travel and Tours in East Grand Forks, said she braced for anxious calls after seeing the early video reports from Italy.
“They were horrific,” she said. “It was scary to look at. We were expecting some calls after that, but not a one has come in. Even the people we have booked, there were no calls saying they’re worried.”
One of the scary aspects of a major accident or incident aboard a ship at sea — as with a plane in the air — “it happens and you are a part of it,” Aubol said. “There’s no getting away from it.
“But I think it’s like when a plane crashes — people don’t quit flying. From everything I have read, this is an extremely isolated incident. The odds of something like this happening again are very slim.”
Stengl said cruises account for between 5 percent and 10 percent of Stengl Johnson Cruise and Travel’s business, and she doesn’t expect to see any falloff due to the Costa Concordia nightmare.
“A lot of our customers are repeat cruisers,” she said, “and if they’ve been on one, they’re OK with cruising. They’ve been through the safety procedures, and they know that normally cruise ships don’t get that close to land.”
She said she’s had no questions about safety since the event off Italy, and she has sold a number of river cruises since the accident.
“Normally after an incident, the next two years will be the safest time,” she added. “It’s like with the airlines after a crash. Everything is watched more carefully, and that’s the time to go.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.