Video: 100 years since Titanic, cruise ships still vulnerable

  1. Transcript of: 100 years since Titanic, cruise ships still vulnerable

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: behemoth vessel with 17 decks, longer than the Titanic , has every modern convenience, every luxury and all the right electronics just like most modern cruise ships , but now this. And so you can't blame people for asking today if this is a safe way to go. NBC 's Tom Costello has been looking into the safety aspect for us tonight.

    TOM COSTELLO reporting: Under international law , cruise ships must be able to evacuate their passengers within 30 minutes of an abandon ship order. But getting 4200 people off Europe 's biggest cruise ship took far longer.

    Ms. GEORGIA ANANIAS (Shipwreck Survivor): Five hours. Five hours of struggling while the ship is sinking and trying to go against gravity and trying to pull ourselves up, trying to get away from breaking glass, bodies flying.

    COSTELLO: A potentially deadly mistake, the crew hadn't yet provided passengers with mandatory evacuation training. Under maritime law ships have 24 hours to provide that evacuation training on cruises lasting seven days or less, but in US waters most do so before ever leaving port. Drills like this one that include learning how to put on a life vest and finding the nearest life boat . And industry analysts are concerned by reports the crew seemed disoriented.

    Professor ROSS KLEIN (Memorial University of Newfoundland): The crew forgot their training. They didn't seem to provide the direction, the support.

    COSTELLO: In a statement the cruise line industry says accidents such as this one are an extremely rare occurrence in the cruise industry and it insists cruising is safe. Roughly 16 million people took cruise vacations in 2011 on the most established lines, up from 15 million in 2010 . And the industry is growing, building 26 new ships in the last two years. While cruise ships fly many flags, international standards dictate everything from crew competence and safety training to rescue procedures.

    Lieutenant Commander DAN BREHM (US Coast Guard): I think it's very safe.

    COSTELLO: Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Dan Brehm is a liaison to the cruise industry.

    Lt. Commander BREHM: When it come to emergencies, we evaluate how the ships will and the crews will respond to emergencies, including instructing passengers where they have to go for safety.

    COSTELLO: But this latest accident shows that 100 years since Titanic , cruise ships are still vulnerable, in this case to rocky reefs and bad decisions. Tom Costello, NBC News, Washington.

updated 1/17/2012 12:54:27 PM ET 2012-01-17T17:54:27

The first interviews of survivors — and the first impressions of people across the world — of the ill-fated Costa Concordia cruise liner that ran aground and tipped over in Italy are yielding predictable comparisons to another tragedy.

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"Have you seen 'Titanic'? That's exactly what it was," said Valeria Ananias, a 31-year-old Los Angeles schoolteacher aboard the ship who crawled along nearly vertical hallways and stairwells in a desperate attempt to reach rescue boats.

Are such comparisons to a 100-year-old tragedy fair? Accurate? It seems that the world views the Concordia through a prism of fact, myth and fantasy that surrounds the Titanic, largely because of the popular movie that came out in 1997 and is being re-released in 3D this year.

Just ask the handful of people visiting "Titanic the Experience," a tour through recovered artifacts and replicas of the famed ship in Orlando.

"When I saw the Concordia on the news this morning, this is what I thought about," said Tom Keill, a Pennsylvania tourist who took the Titanic tour Sunday morning. He and his family shuffled past rooms that recreated first-class cabins, past the lavish replica staircase, past an actual deck chair that once sat on the vessel. (The restrooms in the museum are described by staff as being "through the gift shop, behind the wall and past the iceberg.")

Keill, like virtually everyone who has seen the movie, has thought about what they would have done during such a disaster — and now the Concordia allows us to update and refresh those thoughts. The vessel hit a reef or rock just off the coast of Italy, leaving five people dead and sending hundreds more searching for a way to escape as the boat tipped. Authorities said 15 people remain unaccounted for.

"It looked like it was sheer panic on the Concordia," said Keill, whose two young sons are "really into" Titanic history, which is why the family visited the exhibit while on vacation.

His son, 6-year-old Tyler Keill, was a bit more philosophical after walking past a piece of the Titanic's hull and a large piece of white frost meant to replicate the iceberg that the Titanic struck.

"It's really sad that the Titanic is history," Tyler said to his mom while in the gift shop that sells Titanic replica china, jewelry and 100th anniversary mugs. "But life goes on and we learn from our past."

But have we?

Ominous beginnings?
The Titanic and the Concordia have many similarities.

The Titanic was the biggest ship built to date in Ireland at that time — and the Concordia was the biggest ship built so far in Italy. One crashed into an iceberg, the other, a reef or rock.

Christened in 2006, the Concordia was the largest and most luxurious in the Costa cruise fleet, boasting bars, restaurants, a gym, large spa and several lavish suites.

In its day, the Titanic had similar amenities — although there were more severe class differences on the Titanic, and the chasm between first- and third-class passengers was enforced by class-only eating, sitting and mingling areas. In today's cruising world, the passengers in the $199 cabins on the weekend cruises out of Miami can, and do, sun themselves alongside the folks in the $3,000 suites.

The Concordia was slightly larger (952 feet to the Titanic's 883 feet) and both had a top speed of 23 knots. Ominously, both had issues with their christening, and believers in superstition may attribute the ships' tragedies to it.

Before a ship's maiden voyage, it's common for a dignitary to "christen" the vessel by breaking a bottle of champagne on the hull for good luck.

The Titanic was never christened. The Concordia was christened during a ceremony when the ship came online, but the champagne bottle never broke. After each tragedy, people wondered whether the lack of a proper christening was a bad omen.

Improved safety standards
But then there are the differences. The Titanic had 2,207 people on board; the Concordia about 4,200. The Titanic was much smaller: 46,328 tons compared with the Concordia's 114,500 tons.

And of course, there were the safety measures developed over a century to ensure safety.

Safety standards for large passenger ships grew out of a convention in 1914, two years after the Titanic disaster — which means that all modern-day cruise ships, including the Concordia, should have benefited from the lessons learned from the Titanic. The rules eventually were adopted by the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

Ships are required to have public address systems for announcements to passengers, and lifeboats must be at least partially enclosed. They also must hold weekly "abandon ship" and fire drills. More recently, the safety group had determined that the greatest safety threat to passengers was the evacuation of large ships.

Lifeboats also are required to be capable of being loaded, launched and maneuvered away from the ship within 30 minutes of the Master's signal to abandon ship.

As was detailed during the hour-long tour of "Titanic: The Experience" in Orlando — complete with a guide dressed in a Victorian-looking peacoat and hat — the radio operators aboard the ship didn't relay what they thought were non-essential messages about icebergs to the ship's officers. Meanwhile, people aboard the ship didn't panic because the ship listed only a few degrees. There weren't enough lifeboats for all of the passengers aboard and some lifeboats left without being full.

Cruise ships commemorate Titanic's voyage

And that's one comparison between the Concordia and Titanic that appears to be correct: Both were disasters affected by human error.

"It's amazing that 100 years later, we're still arguing about how many lifeboats are needed, what kind of training the crew had and what the evacuation procedures were," said Bob Jarvis, a maritime law professor at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "One-hundred years later, we still don't do a good job getting passengers ready for a disaster."

Chaotic evacuation
Many passengers aboard the Concordia have complained the crew didn't give them good directions on evacuating and waited so long to lower the lifeboats that many couldn't be released because the ship was listing so heavily.

Ananias, the L.A. schoolteacher, said they were forced to shimmy along a rope down the exposed side of the ship to a waiting rescue boat below.

Some passengers also have complained that the Concordia's captain, Francesco Verusio, abandoned the cruise liner before all his passengers had escaped. The Titanic's captain, Edward Smith, died the night the ship sank. Some historians say he went down with the boat.

Authorities are holding the Italian captain for investigation of suspected manslaughter and abandoning his ship, among other possible charges. According to the Italian navigation code, a captain who abandons a ship in danger can face up to 12 years in prison.

A century ago, people thought the Titanic was unsinkable because it was so large and mighty. Today, people marvel that a ship like the Concordia could have run aground while sailing a routine course.

"To see a ship like this in 2012, with all the sophisticated navigation equipment, doing something that it does every week, you don't expect that today," Jarvis said. "And we all think we know about the Titanic because of the 1997 film. Now we have something to compare it to."

Stories like the Concordia make people like Cindy and Terry Carroll think long and hard about taking a cruise. The married couple from Hamilton, Ontario, are longtime Titanic buffs and made sure to stop by the museum — which also features a Titanic-themed dinner theater in the evenings — during their weeklong Orlando vacation. Neither has ever been on a cruise, though, in part reluctant because of what they know of the Titanic. It was a fear Cindy Carroll had overcome — at least until now.

"A friend had finally talked me into going," Cindy Carroll said with a laugh. "Now, probably not."

AP Business Writer Daniel Wagner contributed from Washington.

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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