Rescuers place explosive charges on the emerged side of the cruise liner Costa Concordia prior to entering on January 17, 2012. *AFP photo
Rescuers place explosive charges on the emerged side of the cruise liner Costa Concordia prior to entering on January 17, 2012. *AFP photo

WEDNESDAY, JAN. 18: Bermuda is expected to escape the worst effects of a dip in cruise ship bookings in the wake of the sinking of the Costa Concordia in Italy, experts said yesterday.

Industry watchers said that potential passengers will be put off taking cruises as a result of the disaster — which came at a peak time for summer holiday bookings — hitting an industry already fighting a drop in business due to the worldwide recession.

A total of 11 passengers on the massive ship which keeled over and sank after hitting rocks, are confirmed dead and the Italian Coast Guard said another 24 are missing.

The rest of the 4200 passengers and crew on board either abandoned ship or were winched clear by helicopter.

The ship’s captain is likely to face criminal charges after Italian prosecutors said he had deviated from the charted course.

Carnival Corporation – which owns Costa and ten other cruise line brands – has seen nearly 17 per cent wiped off its share price since the sinking last Friday, the biggest fall in a decade.

And the firm is expected to lose as much as $1 billion in lost bookings, insurance costs and other expenses as a result of the sinking of one of its major European ships.

But Gary Kent-Smith, a senior travel advisor with travel agent C Travel, said: “If a few hundred thousand people say they won’t cruise, that will filter down to the bottom line for cruise lines.

“But we’re talking about a market of millions of people, so that’s not a huge percentage.

“There are fewer ships coming to Bermuda anyway – I don’t think there will be a further reduction.

“We’re already down to a bare minimum, but that’s not to say they couldn’t reduce it further. But we have faith in the cruise business and one incident won’t deter people from cruises.”

 Henry Hayward, CEO of the Meyer Group of companies, said that some may avoid larger cruise ships after the sinking of the Concordia and the Mediterranean area, where ships operate in relatively tight areas close to shore.

He added: “It’s a wait and see situation – no doubt the cruise lines will be monitoring their bookings. Give it a couple of weeks and we may see bookings are dropping, but I don’t think that will affect Bermuda.”

Kim Darrell, general manager of Hamilton’s Meyer Franklin Travel, said on Monday: “We’re doing cruise bookings today. I don’t think it will affect everybody.

“People who might have been a bit skeptical about cruising in the beginning, it might affect them. It’s like flying – anything could happen. I don’t see it as a situation where people will not book cruises.”

A spokeswoman for Global Travel in Hamilton added: “The number of cruise ship accidents is very small. Bermudians love to travel and cruise. We don’t think there will be any impact on cruise business and we hope not.”

Experts quoted by news agency Reuters and the New York Times, London’s Daily Telegraph and the National Post in Canada warned of an knock-on effect from the Concordia tragedy.

Wyn Ellis, an analyst with financial firm Numis, said: “I think it’s going to be horrid, short term. There will be a definite short-term impact because it’s a key booking period and many people will be put off cruising in the short term.”

Jaime Katz, an equity analyst with US investment research company Morningstar, said: “This is a PR nightmare for the Costa brand. The question is, when that’s been stripped out, whether the Carnival name will be tarnished. The accident could hardly have come at a worse time for the group, with the global economic crisis already making potential cruise customers nervous about their jobs and finances.”

Visitors to Bermuda

Industry giants Carnival Corporation, which accounts for around half of the global cruise line business, took over Italy-based Costa Cruises in 2000.

It owns a total of 11 brands, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Princess, Cunard and Holland America Line, all of which are either regular or occasional visitors to the island.

Princess announced in November that its Caribbean Princess would only visit Bermuda once this year, down from seven visits in 2011.

Earlier, Carnival Cruise Lines said it would be cutting its trips to Bermuda to just one voyage this year. The firm had been expected to make 12 trips to Bermuda, but slashed the numbers at the last minute.

And Holland America said its Veendam would not be coming to Bermuda at all in 2013. It is scheduled to make 19 trips this year.

Carnival Cruise Lines lowered its prices on 2012 voyages last month because of weaker demand in Europe, which is reeling as a result of the global financial crisis.

Morgan Stanley leisure industry analyst James Rollo said: “Cruising is a safer way to travel than air but the investigation may take time, the story is getting global publicity and people are unlikely to book until confidence returns.”

No one from the major cruise line companies travelling to Bermuda had responded to enquiries by press time.

Sea Diamond, 2007: The Greek ship sank after hitting rocks off the Greek island of Santorini. Two died, but 1,600 passengers and crew were rescued.

Achille Lauro, 1994: Sank off the coast of Somalia after a fire on board. Two passengers died and eight were injured as they were being transferred from lifeboats to a tanker which had answered its Mayday call.

Royal Pacific Cruise, 1992: The Greek-owned ship collided with a fishing trawler Terfu 51 due to low visibility. As many as 30 people died with 70 injured out of the 530 passengers on board.

The Admiral Nakhimov, 1986: The Russian cruise ship collided with a cargo ship in the Black Sea. More than 400 died and 836 were rescued.

• Bianca C, 1961: The Costa Cruises’ ship sank after a boiler room explosion and fire off the coast of Grenada. Local fishermen and boat owners combined to mount a rescue operation, saving 672 out of the 673 passengers and crew on board.

The Andrea Doria, 1956: The luxury Italian cruise ship collided with the Swedish American Lines’ Stockholm off the coast of Nantucket Island in the US. The Stockholm lost five crewmen and of the Andrea Doria’s 1,660 passengers and crew, 46 people died.

SS Morro Castle, 1934: This luxury cruise ship was on its way to New York when she caught fire. Due to the veneered wood surfaces of the ship, its glued ply paneling and openings in the fire doors, the flames spread quickly, and the crew had little fire-fighting equipment or skills to combat it. 137 people died.

The Titanic, 1912: The luxury Titanic – billed as unsinkable – collided with an iceberg on its maiden voyage from England to America. Nearly 1,500 died.

The Empress of Ireland, 1914: A total of 1,012 people died after the passenger liner collided with a freighter on the St Lawrence River in Canada. Several hundred passengers and crew survived.

Research by Raymond Hainey & Don Burgess