Images of the Costa Concordia cruise ship sinking off the West Coast of Italy have been splashed across the global media and as the death toll rises into double digits, the question of cruise ship safety is likely on the minds of many.

The Chief executive of Costa Crocere, the owner of the stricken ship Costa Concordia, said the company's cruise liners were safe and assured critics that the tragedy was caused by human error.

An episode like this, which was caused by human factors, cannot and must not destroy what we all have done collectively, Pier Luigi Foschi stated.

Our ships are as safe today as they were on Friday, he added. What happened has nothing to do with maritime safety. It has nothing to do with our policies and procedures, our technology, training and quality of our staff.

However, some survivors have called the rescue effort chaotic and disorganized.

Are Larger Ships a Safety Concern?

The crew is required to inspect the equipment periodically and participate in the weekly emergency drills at least once a month. Additionally, the company has to do an audit of the ship once a year.

The International Maritime Organization, an arm of the United Nations, makes these rules and details everything from where and how many life vests need to be stowed to the instruction of evacuation procedures (which passengers must receive within 24 hours of boarding).

The Concordia is just over five years old and part of a recent trend to build bigger, flashier cruise ships that can carry more passengers than ever before.

Officials at Nautilus International, a maritime workers union, called the wreck a wakeup call highlighting long-standing safety concerns. Ships, they said, have been allowed to get too large to evacuate quickly - with the average tonnage doubling over the past decade.

In this, the centenary of the loss of the Titanic, major nostalgia industry is already in full flow - but it is essential that everyone recognizes that the Titanic offers lessons for today and that there are contemporary resonances that should not be lost, said Nautilus International's general secretary Mark Dickinson. Many ships are now effectively small towns at sea, and the sheer number of people onboard raises serious questions about evacuation.

Dickinson said the sheer size and scale of such ships presents massive challenges of emergency services, evacuation, rescue, and salvage.

Regardless, cruise lines do have a better record than airlines in terms of deaths per million passengers and many note that almost all of the more than 4,000 people onboard the ship got away safely.

Some, sadly, did not.

International Maritime Organization Secretary-General Koji Sekimizu said that IMO would not take the accident lightly.

We should seriously consider the lessons to be learnt and, if necessary, re-examine the regulations on the safety of large passenger ships in the light of the findings of the casualty investigation, Sekimizu said.

The investigation of the crash is focusing primarily on the ship's captain, not its design. Many industry watchers counter that these new megaships have the latest safety and navigation technology, more watertight compartmentalization, and pose little risk to passengers despite their bulk.

Things to Consider Before Taking a Cruise:

Traveler's Insurance covers a variety of trip-related problems from lost luggage to emergency cancellations. Cruise ships do, however, create some unique situations that are best discussed with your provider before you take a trip. For example, find out of your coverage includes things like helicopter evacuations.

Know Your Personal Health before you leave on a cruise. Cover all your bases and check your itinerary to ensure you have the proper vaccines for the regions you'll visit. Bring as much documentation and information as possible because, though every ship has a doctor on board, levels of training vary from ship to ship. Most doctors are also considered contractors and as such are not employees of the cruise line. This can create a legal grey area if something goes wrong.

The Reputation of a Cruise Line can tell a lot about its operating procedures. Before you book, research the safety and sanitation of various liners. In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has records of cruise ship inspections under its Vessel Sanitation Program that are available to the public.

Know the Ship's Layout before you set sail and familiarize yourself with the emergency procedures. Take note of the location of your life preservers, what lifeboat you are assigned to, and the meaning of the ship's emergency signals. Every ship is required by law to hold a fire and lifeboat drill with passengers within the first 24 hours and it is imperative that you attend.

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