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Another cruise ship snafu comes at a cost for Carnival brand

The cruise liner Costa Allegra is seen drifting in the Indian Ocean on Feb. 27, 2012, after an engine room fire.

Indian Navy/Handout/Reuters

Helicopters ferried food, phones and flashlights Tuesday to more than 1,000 passengers, including 14 Canadians, stuck aboard a disabled cruise ship that was being towed to the Seychelles Islands through waters prowled by pirates.

Still, those aboard the Costa Allegra, a sister ship of the cruise liner that capsized off Italy last month, faced more long, stifling nights before the vessel docks in the tropical paradise.

The stricken liner was expected to reach the main Seychelles island of Mahe on Thursday, the Italian cruise operator said.

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"The speed of the ship, despite the hot and humid climate, creates a slight breeze that helps make the situation more comfortable," a company statement said. It said fresh bread would be brought in Wednesday since cooking was impossible, but added there was "no lack of food and other comfort items."

Fire erupted Monday in the ship's generator room, knocking out power to its engines, lights and air conditioning. The blaze came just six weeks after the Costa Concordia hit a reef off the Italian coast, killing 32 people. Both ships are operated by Costa Crociere SpA, which is owned by Florida-based Carnival Corp., the world's top cruise ship company.

A British mother, Jayne Thomas, said that her daughter, Rebecca, a dancer, is one of more than 1,000 people aboard the Costa Allegra; her son, James, also a dancer, was on the Concordia and was still recovering from the effects. She told the BBC: "I thought it was a one-off and we wouldn't be going through this experience again. I really didn't think disaster could strike twice.

"Of all the ships that are sailing in the ocean, the two that have come into difficulties in the last few weeks have been the two that my children were on."

The European mishaps have tarnished the Costa Crociere brand, and on Saturday, the company will take another blow, when the pre-trial hearings of former Costa Concordia captain Francesco Schettino open in the Tuscan city of Grosseto, Italy.

Several hundred passengers from the fatal voyage are expected to attend. A few of the Costa officials who are under investigation for their role in the Costa Concordia disaster are involved in the Costa Allegra rescue mission.

In a phone interview, Sanjay Goel, president of Vancouver cruise agency Cruise Connections Canada, said there is no doubt that Costa will suffer a decline in bookings because of the back-to-back incidents. The drop-off could be dramatic, he said, and Costa no doubt will respond by dropping prices equally dramatically.

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"After 9/11, no one wanted to travel and we found in the cruise business that 'fear had a price' – that is, when demand dropped, pricing was reduced until the ships were filled," he said. "The same will happen here. Ships are all fixed-cost-based products and they have to be filled, period."

He said the question is whether all the negative publicity from the two Costa events will tarnish the other Carnival brands, which include Princes Cruises, Holland America, Cunard and P&O. So far, the Costa disasters do not seem to have affected bookings at the others, which tend to operate independently in their own niche markets.

"At the end of the day, the travelling public will decide whether these are isolated incidents or representative of greater issues," Mr. Goel said.

Last week, the company encountered another PR headwind, when 22 guests on the Carnival Splendor cruise ship out of Long Beach were robbed at gunpoint in Mexico as they travelled by bus from a nature hike in the jungle to the Mexican port city of Puerto Vallarta, according to cruise ship officials and local media reports.

With reports from AP and Guardian

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About the Author
European Columnist

Eric Reguly is the European columnist for The Globe and Mail and is based in Rome. Since 2007, when he moved to Europe, he has primarily covered economic and financial stories, ranging from the euro zone crisis and the bank bailouts to the rise and fall of Russia's oligarchs and the merger of Fiat and Chrysler. More

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