Ship disaster raises cruise safety questions

This photo acquired by the Associated Press from a passenger of the luxury ship that ran aground off the coast of Tuscany shows fellow passengers wearing life-vests on board the Costa Concordia as they wait to be evacuated, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.
AP Photo/Courtesy of tourist aboard ship

The disaster of the Costa Concordia is raising safety questions about the cruise ship industry, reports Mark Strassmann.

Once the ship hit the rocks off the island of Giglio late Friday, one disaster seemingly led to another, as passengers report that the ship's crew failed in every major way to lead them to safety.

First, passengers were plunged into darkness. Then an announcement warned of a blackout - and urged calm.

But water was pouring in. The ship was dying. Passengers describe immediate panic as more than 4,000 people speaking different languages tried to abandon ship.

"Everybody was just screaming out; all the passengers were running up and down," said one survivor.

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They were also unprepared. The international rules governing cruise ships state passengers must practice an evacuation drill within 24 hours after leaving port. The ship's drill was planned for Saturday. But the ship hit the rocks on Friday night, not even three hours after departure.

"These drills are designed to make sure that people know exactly where to go in case of an emergency, what to do in case of an emergency, what the signals will sound like," said former National Transportation Safety Board chairman Mark Rosenker, a CBS News transportation safety analyst.

Survivors report that the crew hesitated to notify passengers and the coast guard of the emergency. That led to a delay in evacuation measures, causing panic throughout the massive vessel.

"We started to leave because the boat was still tilting more but no one was telling us what to do," said passenger Lynn Kaelin from Puyallup, Wash.

Now, as rescue operations turn to recovery, investigators will examine the crew's response, and whether internationally accepted maritime safety procedures were properly followed.

"They are going to be looking at the behavior of the crew on the bridge," said Rosenker. "The voyage data recorder will provide a whole panorama of what that vessel was doing."

Particularly under scrutiny will be the ship's captain, who reportedly left his ship while search and rescue operations were still underway. Italian police have detained him on charges of manslaughter, failure to offer assistance and abandoning ship.

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The ship's owner, Costa Cruises, blamed its own captain. But it's owned by Carnival, and it's unclear what the impact will be on consumer confidence for the 16 million people who do go on cruises - and the impact on safety procedures both on ships that fly U.S. flags and those that fly the flags of other nations.