(5:45 p.m. EDT) -- In the wake of the one of the worst cruise disaster in a years, the industry's largest trade organizations have announced a number of changes in safety protocol.
The new policies, released in tandem by the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and European Cruise Council (ECC), address issues related to personnel access to the bridge, passage planning and life jackets -- three areas called into question when 32 people died in January after Costa Concordia hit a rock, capsized and sank off the Italian island of Giglio.
Bridge Access. In a statement, CLIA said that "bridge access will now be limited to those with operational functions during any period of restricted maneuvering or when increased vigilance is required." Spokesman David Peikin described the period for increased vigilance as "any time a vessel is constrained in its ability to freely navigate, such as in a restricted waterway/channel, entering a port, or an area where there is an unusually high volume or compression of vessel traffic." Concordia's captain, Franceso Schettino, was allegedly distracted by bridge guests at the time of the accident. He remains under house arrest on charges including manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship.
Peikin added that he anticipated that the policy would add restrictions with regard to bridge tours, which are often part of "behind-the-scenes" activities offered to passengers.
Passage Planning. Some of the announced modifications are more a point of clarification and codification than an actual practical change. For instance, ships have long been legally required by the International Maritime Organization's SOLAS conventions to create a voyage plan before setting sail. The new language, which, among other things, explicitly requires for the plan to be "drafted by a designated officer and approved by the master" well in advance of the sailing, "will provide greater detail, definition and consistency in passage planning," explained Peikin. Schettino is accused of taking Concordia on a dangerous unauthorized route in order to "salute" the residents of Giglio. The ex-captain said that his superiors told him to take the course.
Life Jackets. The change in life jacket policy calls for ships to carry more life jackets than are currently legally required. Some Concordia passengers have said they had to feel their way back to their cabins in the dark after the ship lost power to obtain life jackets.
SOLAS currently dictates that ships carry life jackets for every berth, which may be higher than the number of persons onboard, plus five percent. In practice, the majority of cruise ships carry many more life jackets than is required, but the new policy will raise the official mandatory minimum.
"What we've done is something that was a previously agreed upon practice and laid it out as policy that all members will follow," explained Michael Crye, CLIA's executive vice president.
Tuesday's policy change announcements are just the latest to emerge from CLIA's Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review, launched in January. In February, the organization announced that its member lines would hold muster drills before a ship leaves port. Most lines already complied with the new policy -- but Concordia was an exception. Because the ship operated on a "triple-homeport" schedule -- passengers could board in Barcelona, Rome or Savona -- musters were sometimes scheduled for the next day. This was still acceptable per the 24-hour window dictated by SOLAS, but some 700 passengers on Concordia had not yet attended the drill when the accident occurred.
CLIA has also called for better reporting of maritime casualties.
--by Dan Askin, News Editor