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Maritime Lawyer Raises Questions

Like most people who cruise, we tend to accept the occasional accident or fire or incident on a cruise ship. Yet we do so without knowing what "occasional" really is.

Jim Walker thinks he knows. Walker is a well-known "maritime" lawyer, which means he provides a legal voice to anybody in the cruise industry who needs it, specifically passengers. He is probably a thorn in the side of cruise line owners and surely he keeps them on their toes.

Because of his vested interest, you can take Mr. Walker's criticisms with a grain of sea salt. After his latest opinion on the industry's safety record, however, the word that sticks on the screen is transparency.

Are cruise lines really transparent?

Walker thinks not. Attending a state-of-the-industry presentation at the Cruise Shipping Miami convention last week, he listened to cruise line CEOs say that the industry is "highly regulated" and that fires on ships are "very rare" and that cruising is the "safest, safest, safest" way to vacation.

Then he pointed out on his website — click here to read all of his comments — that there have been 90 cruise-ship fires in 23 years and that the U.S. really has no way of regulating ships that fly foreign flags, as 99.9 per cent of all cruise ships do. One contextual note about the fires:  We don't know if this includes fires like a cigarette in a waste basket or if all are of a more serious nature.

His research, vested as it may be, does cause all of us to wonder…

Are cruise-line executives completely honest or are they merely spin doctors? What kind of transparency is reasonable to expect? Is cruising as safe as we like to think it is?

Or have we left our heads in the sand on the beach of some sunny port?

Carnival Legend
12 nights
July 3, 2013
London (return): Copenhagen, Berlin, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Amsterdam
Inside: $749
Cost per day: $62

Costa Concordia's Ongoing Legacy

Earlier this week, we regaled you — okay, informed you — with things about the Titanic that were new to us. One that we couldn't squeeze in was about the legendary ship's legacy: Its demise in 1914 led to the formation of the International Ice Patrol, and from that day to this, no lives have been lost to ship collisions with icebergs.

Fast forward 98 years.

The Costa Concordia, twice the size of the Titanic, wrecked on rocks near Italy just over a year ago. It has become the modern-day version of the Titanic even though the death toll (32) wasn't nearly as staggering (1,507).

So what will the Concordia's legacy be?

It's already taking shape.

On 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago, CBS did a Concordia update. Among its revolutionary findings: a "new ship" is being welded onto both sides of the Concordia 

"like big Lego" so that the disabled ship can be rolled, raised, buoyed by pumped air and floated to shore, something that's never before been tried. The cost is probably not much less than it was when the Concordia was built nine years ago: $400 million.

On a website belonging to a well-known maritime lawyer and cruise safety advocate, Jim Walker, there is concern that the world's two biggest cruise ships — Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas — don't have enough lifeboats to carry their massive populations to safety should disaster strike. You can read his fascinating account at www.cruiselawnews, but in essence, it sounds like it would be a stretch for Royal Caribbean to evacuate up to 8,500 people in an "abandon ship" crisis.

The point is, while the Concordia disaster's days in infamy may never be of Titanic proportions, it will certainly continue to have an impact on safety at sea.

Norwegian Spirit
12 nights
April 17, 2013
Barcelona, Toulon, Florence, Rome, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Izmir, Athens, Venice
Inside: $899
Cost per day: $74

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