Video: Passengers describe evacuating sinking ship

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updated 1/14/2012 10:35:09 PM ET 2012-01-15T03:35:09

The luxury cruise liner that ran aground off the Italian coast has rattled even the most die-hard "cruisers" in an industry where catastrophic accidents are rare, but it's unlikely to do significant long-term damage.

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The Costa Concordia hit a reef, tearing a massive gash into its hull and sending in a rush of water that caused it to tip over. The ordeal was described by many of the 4,234 people aboard as something akin to scenes from the film "Titanic." At least three people died, and dozens remain unaccounted for.

Newlyweds rescued from capsized cruise ship

Disasters of this magnitude don't strike often, especially considering the number of passengers traveling on cruise ships each year. The Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, says on its website that more than 15 million passengers traveled on its member cruise lines in 2010. That number was expected to climb to more than 16 million in 2011, CLIA said. The trade group counts 26 cruise lines among its members — including Costa and its parent company, Carnival Corp.

Industry observers said the disaster is unlikely to have a significant impact on cruise line travel.

"When a plane goes down, how many people stop flying?" said Stewart Chiron, who writes the blog Cruiseguy.com. "It's inevitable that a few people will be concerned, but I think most people understand that these things happen, and that the cruise industry as a whole has an incredible safety record."

'Shock and praying'
Frequent cruise passengers were talking about the wreck on the website Cruisecritic.com, which counts about 700,000 members.

"Mostly it's shock and praying for the people on board," said the site's managing editor, John Deiner. He added there was "no real sense that they're going to stop cruising."

He also said, however, that it was too soon to tell exactly how the incident would affect bookings for future cruises. Furthermore, people who booked a trip aboard the Concordia may not know yet how the cruise line will handle their reservations.

Indeed the industry has grown significantly in recent years. According to CLIA, cruise lines set 12 new ships sailing in 2010, and added another 14 in 2011.

Carnival holds a large chunk of the cruise market — it says it carried nearly 50 percent of the world's cruise passengers in 2010. All told, there are 100 ships in the fleets of its various brands. The company is the parent of 10 cruise lines, among them Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines.

The industry's capacity has grown at an annual rate of 5.7 percent from 2005 to 2010, according to Carnival's regulatory filings.

The full extent of Carnival's liabilities as a result of the Costa Corncordia accident remains to be seen. The company's insurance is a combination of self-insurance — a fund that it maintains for disasters — and policies with high deductibles, according to its financial disclosures.

"We are not protected against all risks, which could result in unexpected increases in our expenses in the event of an incident," the company's SEC filings say.

Legal ramifications
Some of Carnival's liability could be determined from the voyage data recorder, a device similar to a "black box" used to analyze a plane crash. The recorders allow investigators to review what happened just before an accident.

Jack Hickey, a Miami attorney who has practiced maritime law for 32 years, said Costa Cruises will likely face legal consequences for a whole host of reasons, including the captain of the Costa Concordia's apparent decision not to immediately issue a mayday call and inability to properly navigate the ship before it ran aground.

Costa said in its statement that the captain tried to prepare for an eventual evacuation, but that it was too difficult for passengers to get off because the ship tilted suddenly.

"If you are the captain of a ship carrying 4,000 people, you should know the waters you ply like the back of your hand," Hickey said. "There are obviously questions about that. It's one thing to get into problems, but you must react appropriately."

Related: How safe is that cruise ship anyway?

However, Hickey also said he doubted the accident would have a broad impact on the cruise industry.

"The cruise industry as a whole is pretty healthy, it's growing," he said. "It might affect bookings on Costa in the near term, certainly over the next year."

Safety standards for large passenger ships grew out of a convention in 1914, two years after the Titanic disaster. The rules eventually were adopted by the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

Among the requirements: Ships must have public address systems for announcements to passengers; lifeboats must be fully or partially enclosed; and ships must have evacuation chutes, similar to what airplanes have. Ships also must hold weekly "abandon ship" and fire drills.

International rules require that lifeboats be capable of being loaded, launched and maneuvered away from the ship within 30 minutes of the signal to abandon ship. The lifeboats apparently weren't accessible in this case because of the ship's rapid tilting.

Associated Press writers Curt Anderson in Miami and Greg Schreier in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia runs aground

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  1. People on lifeboats evacuate the Costa Concordia after it ran aground on Jan. 13, 2012, killing 32 people. The cruise ship is the subject of the biggest salvage operation in maritime history (Giuseppe Modesti / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Passengers arrive at Porto Santo Stefano on Jan. 14 after the Costa Concordia ran aground off the Italian island of Giglio. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Costa Concordia cruise liner captain Francesco Schettino is escorted by Italian police on Jan. 14, 2012, in Grosseto. Schettino was arrested on charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship, police said. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Firefighters on a dinghy look at a rock emerging from the side of the Costa Concordia on Jan. 15, 2012. (Andrea Sinibaldi / Lapresse via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A woman looks at the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise liner on Jan. 16, 2012. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. A satellite image shows the wreck of the Costa Concordia off the island of Giglio on Jan. 17, 2012. (DigitalGlobe) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Search and rescue teams continue the search for survivors on the Costa Concordia on Jan. 19, 2012. (Tullio M. Puglia / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Police divers look at the bell of the stricken Costa Concordia luxury liner during their underwater search on Jan. 19, 2012. (Carabinieri via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Divers make their way into a flooded cabin of the Costa Concordia cruise ship In this undated photo released by the Italian Navy on Jan. 24, 2012. (Italian Navy / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The capsized Costa Concordia cruise ship lies off the snow-covered island of Giglio on Feb. 11, 2012. (Giampiero Sposito / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A boy prepares to snorkel in front of the wreckage of the capsized cruise liner Costa Concordia on Aug. 28, 2012. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The Costa Concordia cruise ship lays near the harbor of Giglio on Oct. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship capsized and sank on Jan. 13, 2012, after approaching the Tuscan island of Giglio to perform a manuever close to the shore known as a "salute." (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Workers stand on the Costa Concordia cruise ship near the port on Jan. 8, 2013 on the Italian island of Giglio. (Filippo Monteforte / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An aerial view, taken from an Italian Navy helicopter, shows the Costa Concordia surrounded by other vessels on Aug. 26. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A diver participates in a search operation Sept. 24, 2013, for two missing bodies onboard the Costa Concordia. The last two missing bodies were recovered on Sept. 26. (Laura Lezza / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Vessels surround the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship during an operation to refloat the boat on July 14, 2014 off the Italian island of Giglio. More than two-and-a-half years after it crashed off in a nighttime disaster which left 32 people dead, the plan is to raise and tow the vessel in an unprecedented and delicate operation for its final journey to the shipyard where it was built in the port of Genoa. (Vincenzo Pinto / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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