(12:15 p.m. EST) -- Effective immediately, all ships will conduct muster drills prior to departing from port, it was announced today. The move -- coordinated by the member cruise lines of three international cruise associations -- was spurred by the capsizing of Costa Concordia and an industry-wide safety review conducted in its aftermath.
A muster drill is when passengers gather at assigned lifeboat stations where crewmembers outline what they should do in the event of an emergency and demonstrate how to put on life jackets. Today's expected new comes after reports of chaos onboard Concordia in the hours after the vessel hit a rock. Many passengers reportedly did not know what to do because a muster drill had not yet been held for some 700 passengers who had embarked that day in Civitavecchia, the nearest port to Rome.
In a joint statement, the Cruise Lines International Association, European Cruise Council, and the Passenger Shipping Association said they had voluntarily agreed to exceed current legal regulations regarding mustering outlined by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). (The SOLAS regulations are maintained by the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency tasked with improving maritime safety.) Instead of simply holding a muster drill within 24 hours of embarkation as required, member lines will conduct the drills for all passengers before their ships leave port.
Any passengers that embark after the official pre-cruise drill will promptly participate in an individual or group safety drill that meets SOLAS requirements.
It's important to note that the vast majority of major cruise lines already hold their muster drills before a ship leaves port. There are exceptions. Some ships, like Costa Concordia, that stop at multiple ports to pick up passengers, do not hold a muster until some passengers have already been onboard overnight -- but still within the 24 hour period.
For more information, see our story on the Mystery of the Muster Drill.
--by Erica Silverstein, Features Editor