No one ‘deserves to die’ on vacation, Costa Concordia survivor says

Passengers aboard Costa Concordia were repeatedly told not to panic or abandon the sinking vessel off Italy’s coast because the trouble was “generator failure,” a survivor told U.S. lawmakers.

Divya Sharma told a House panel today she was eating dinner about four hours after boarding the cruise ship with her husband, Sameer, to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. The couple from Medford, Mass., said they decided to end their dinner, step over broken glass dishes and retrieve life jackets that Divya had spotted in their cabin closet, ignoring the crew’s assurances that all was fine.

Carnival’s Costa Concordia ran aground off Italy’s coast in January, killing at least 25 people. Sharma was among witnesses at a U.S. House transportation panel hearing on the accident and cruise-ship safety.

“We trusted the crewmembers and the captain that they knew what they were doing,” Divya Sharma said. “Nobody deserves to die on their vacation.”

Shares of Miami-based Carnival Corp., which owns Costa, have dropped 12 percent in New York trading since Jan. 13, when the ship struck rocks and partially sank. The incident led Carnival to reduce marketing in the January-to-March period, during which one-third of all voyages are arranged.

The cruise industry learned from the Costa Concordia accident that emergency muster drills for passengers should be conducted before ships leave port, Christine Duffy, chief executive officer of the Cruise Lines International Association, told the panel.

The Sharmas described confusion as they asked their cabin attendant and crew members what to do and where to go to reach lifeboats as the grounded vessel began listing. They said they hadn’t been told where emergency equipment was stored or how to use the gear.

To reach their cabin on the ninth deck for life jackets and return to the lifeboats on the fourth deck, the couple had to climb “tilting” stairs and hallways amid “dim” emergency lighting, Divya Sharma said.

“Not a single fatality is acceptable to our industry,” said Duffy, whose group has offices in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and Arlington, Virginia. “We treat every one of these tragedies as a profound reminder of our duty to continuously improve our practices, procedures and performance.”

Duffy is scheduled to testify again tomorrow when Senator Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, holds a Commerce Committee hearing on cruise industry oversight. Rockefeller, in prepared testimony, criticized the industry’s tax structure and environmental record.

“In addition to reviewing the industry’s safety and environmental record, I believe that we must ask why an industry that earns billions and uses a variety of federal services — from the Coast Guard, to the Customs Bureau to Centers for Disease Control — pays almost no corporate income tax,” Rockefeller said.

The Costa Concordia remains half submerged and on its side. Divers searching the wreckage found eight bodies on Feb. 22, according to the Italian Civil Protection Agency. Seven people are missing, the agency said.

Nine employees of Carnival’s Genoa-based Costa Crociere unit are under investigation in connection with the Concordia accident. The cruise line is “absolutely certain” its staff acted correctly, it said in an e-mailed statement Feb. 22.


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