U.S. Lawmakers To Hold Hearing On Cruise Ship Safety

U.S. Lawmakers plan on holding a hearing on cruise ship safety, following last week’s Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster off Italy’s Tuscan coast. The Concordia struck a rock off the the island of Giglio last Friday evening that tore a 160-foot gash in its hull, causing the vessel to capsize.

A U.S. Congressional committee launched its probe Wednesday over industry safety practices; a hearing is scheduled next month, said Reuters. The House Transportation Committee’s Coast Guard subcommittee will review operating standards and crew training in addition to what led to the historic crash last week on Tuscany’s Giglio Island. To date, 11 people have been confirmed dead and 22 remain missing, including two Americans, said Reuters. The ship was carrying 4,200 passengers and crew.

In a statement, Representative Frank LoBiondo (New Jersey), the subcommittee chairman said, “Although it is early in the investigatory process, it appears the Costa Concordia was a preventable tragedy…. The committee and subcommittee will use this hearing to review current U.S. laws and regulations in an effort to ensure a similar tragedy does not occur aboard vessels calling on American ports,” wrote Reuters. Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica (Florida) said, “We must ensure that vessel safety and operating standards and crew training requirements are adequate and adequately enforced and that millions of Americans who board these ships are kept safe,” Reuters reported.

The Costa Concordia, which is owned by the Italian company, Costa Crociera SpA, was operated by Costa Cruises, a unit of U.S.-based Carnival Corporation, said Reuters.

The U.S. Coast Guard said that cruise liners are “technically advanced and operate safely in U.S. waters,” and that ships are inspected twice yearly. Typically, liner incidents involve vessels hitting piers, harbor markers, or debris, with serious incidents consisting of shipboard fires or crashes with smaller vessels, said Reuters. In 2010, Carnival was the subject of a Coast Guard safety alert over automatic extinguishers failing to work as designed during an engine room fire, said Reuters. The ship was The Splendor.

The captain of the doomed Costa Concordia, Francesco Schettino, was placed under house arrest earlier this week and will likely face charges of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck, and abandoning ship. Schettino reportedly took the ship four miles off course in a “fly-by” of Giglio. Members of the Italian Coast Guard and passengers reported that Schettino left the Concordia in a lifeboat long before evacuation was complete and questions have been raised about Schettino’s possible failure to raise an SOS. Reports say the Italian coast guard learned of the ship’s troubles after passengers phoned police.

A recording of a heated conversation between Schettino and an Italian Coast Guard Officer was released with the obviously furious officer heard ordering Schettino—at this time safe in a lifeboat—back to the Concordia to oversee the evacuation, but the Concordia captain resisted, complaining that it was too dark and that the ship was listing.

At a three-hour hearing before an Italian judge this week, Schettino admitted responsibility for crashing the ship into rocks, but disputed accusations that he abandoned the stricken ship, claiming he fell into a lifeboat when the vessel listed violently.

Meanwhile, as hopes of rescue are dwindling, divers searching for the missing have had to repeatedly suspend efforts due to vessel shifting

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