As the search, rescue, and some salvage, teams undergo the painful task of combing through the Costa Concordia looking for survivors, a double edged chill runs up my spin. The first is because 2, 300tonnes of oil sit in a Mediterranean Marine Area, waiting to leak out. It’s all a little too close to home for me. The Rena container ship that ran aground in November last year is still off the coast of Tauranga, New Zealand (now split in two) 3 months after hitting a reef, still with hundreds of containers remaining on board, many hazardous, along with oil ready to leak. Yep, the salvage and clean up of vessels is costly, time consuming, and dangerous. Add to that the precious lives of those on board.
The second chill stems from once being a stewardess on luxury motorboats in the Mediterranean. Not only is it the haunting memory of having to serve far too wealthy people and clean their bathrooms daily, but also the fact that the cruise and boat industry is far too flippant on safety measures. Many times I have been on boats in conditions that I would consider potentially unsafe.
But aren’t boats in general, potentially unsafe? It seems it is easy to forget that, when we are having fun sailing around. Had the boat I was employed on hit a rock and burst our hull and tipped sideways, no doubt me asleep in my little box beneath the aft would have been a gonna (actually I did check that I would be able to rip off my porthole and made sure I remained thin enough to swim through it should the need arise and I was lucky enough to get out). The crews working in the industry, particularly in service on big boats, are often desperate for work. Large boats are floating hotels and can seem appealing, with many aboard not familiar with the risks before they start, despite the STCW95 or 96 and other certification systems. So, I wonder how well this is regulated, not just from a worker safety perspective but also an environmental one? Who knows what crew rights would be – larger companies probably have contracts for employees but many smaller, private yachts employ via word of mouth with hardly any redress or rights for the crew.
If you haven’t had the honour of seeing one of these cruise ships up and personal, then it is quite a sight. Often we would anchor a yacht in a small bay and awake in the morning to a massive sky scraper blocking the entrance. It must be even worse for local residents who have both their views spoilt and the serenity of their summer vacation as thousands flock ashore. Granted that it’s great for local businesses and this is the massive plus side of the industry. And with the decline in fish stocks, smaller fishing villages across Europe are looking to tourism to fill the void left from no employment. Cruise ships can seem an alluring option. The tragic situation in Italian waters this week reminds us crudely that the Med is no floating lake to play around in and that there are serious consequences at stake when things do go wrong.