Nightly News   |  January 16, 2012

100 years since Titanic, cruise ships still vulnerable

Regardless of the waters they're operating in, cruise ships are governed by a series of international maritime treaties that set standards for everything from evacuation procedures to emergency crew training. NBC’s Tom Costello reports.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

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.