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Cruise disaster a 'wake-up call' for Alaska, says safety adviser

Michelle Theriault Boots
Italian firefighters approach the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia which ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Firefighters worked Sunday to rescue a crew member with a suspected broken leg from the overturned hulk of the luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia, 36 hours after it ran aground. More than 40 people are still unaccounted-for.
Remo Casilli / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans after it ran aground off the coast of the Isola del Giglio island, Italy, gashing open the hull and forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to the nearby Isola del Giglio island, early Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. About 1,000 Italian passengers were onboard, as well as more than 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1,000 crew members.
Giorgio Fanciulli / AP2012
Oil removal ships near the cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its side Monday, Jan. 16, 2012, after running aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, last Friday night. The rescue operation was called off mid-afternoon Monday after the Costa Concordia shifted a few inches (centimeters) in rough seas. The fear is that if the ship shifts significantly, some 500,000 gallons of fuel may begin to leak into the pristine waters.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
In this underwater photo taken on Jan. 13 and released by the Italian Coast Guard Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 a scuba diver swims next to the cruise ship Costa Concordia, after it ran aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian rescue officials say a passenger's body has been found in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising to six the number of confirmed dead in the disaster. Sixteen people remain unaccounted-for.
Anonymous / AP2012
This photo acquired by the Associated Press from a passenger of the luxury ship that ran aground off the coast of Tuscany shows fellow passengers wearing life-vests on board the Costa Concordia as they wait to be evacuated, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
AP2012
In this underwater photo taken on Jan. 13 and released by the Italian Coast Guard Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 a scuba diver swims next to the body of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, after it ran aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian rescue officials say a passenger's body has been found in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising to six the number of confirmed dead in the disaster. Sixteen people remain unaccounted-for.
Anonymous / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
In this underwater photo taken on Jan. 13 and released by the Italian Coast Guard Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 a view of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, after it ran aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian rescue officials say a passenger's body has been found in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising to six the number of confirmed dead in the disaster. Sixteen people remain unaccounted-for.
Anonymous / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
In this underwater photo released by the Italian Coast Guard Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 a breach is seen on the body of the cruise ship Costa Concordia Monday after it run aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian rescue officials say a passenger's body has been found in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising to six the number of confirmed dead in the disaster. Sixteen people remain unaccounted-for.
Anonymous / AP2012
In this photo released by the Guardia di Finanza (border Police), the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said. The number of dead and injured is not yet confirmed Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo said.
AP2012
In this underwater photo released by the Italian Coast Guard Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 a scuba diver swims inside the cruise ship Costa Concordia, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 after it run aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian rescue officials say a passenger's body has been found in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising to six the number of confirmed dead in the disaster. Sixteen people remain unaccounted-for.
Anonymous / AP2012
In this photo released by the Guardia di Finanza (Border Police), the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
AP2012
In this photo released by the Italian Coast Guard Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 a coast guard scuba diver makes his way through floating pieces of furniture inside the cruise ship Costa Concordia Sunday Jan. 15, 2012, after it run aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy. Italian rescue officials say a passenger's body has been found in the wreckage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, raising to six the number of confirmed dead in the disaster. Sixteen people remain unaccounted-for.
Anonymous / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
Italian rescue personnel work on the Costa Concordia cruise liner, two days after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. The captain of a cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan coast faced accusations from authorities and passengers that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated as rescuers found another body on the overturned vessel.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
The cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its side off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. Italian searchers suspended operations on Wednesday after an enormous cruise ship grounded and partially submerged off the coast of Tuscany shifted slightly, creating concerns for the safety of divers and firefighters scouring the cruise ship for more than 20 passengers and crew still missing.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
An Italian rescue diver jumps into the water near the Costa Concordia cruise liner, two days after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Monday, Jan. 16, 2012. The captain of a cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan coast faced accusations from authorities and passengers that he abandoned ship before everyone was safely evacuated as rescuers found another body on the overturned vessel.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
Firefighters on a dinghy look at a rock emerging from the side of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, the day after it ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. The Italian Coast Guard says its divers have found two more bodies aboard the Costa Concordia. The discovery of the bodies brings to five the number of known dead after the luxury ship ran aground with some 4,200 people aboard on Friday night.
Andrea Sinibaldi / AP2012
A survivor of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, arrive at the harbor, in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.
Claude Paris / AP2012
An Italian rescue worker is lowered down by an helicopter on the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. Italian searchers suspended operations on Wednesday after an enormous cruise ship grounded and partially submerged off the coast of Tuscany shifted slightly, creating concerns for the safety of divers and firefighters scouring the cruise ship for more than 20 passengers and crew still missing.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
Italian firefighters scuba divers approach the cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its side, the day after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. A helicopter on Sunday airlifted a third survivor from the capsized hulk of a luxury cruise ship 36 hours after it ran aground off the Italian coast, as prosecutors confirmed they were investigating the captain for manslaughter charges and abandoning the ship.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
Survivors of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground near the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, arrive wearing blankets at the harbor in Marseille, southern France, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012.
Claude Paris / AP2012
The cruise ship Costa Concordia is seen from an approaching ferry boat, laying on its side off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. Italian searchers suspended operations on Wednesday after the enormous cruise ship grounded and partially submerged off the coast of Tuscany shifted slightly, creating concerns for the safety of divers and firefighters scouring the cruiseline for more than 20 passengers and crew still missing.
Angelo Carconi / AP2012
CORRECTS THE NAME OF THE CAPTAIN Francesco Schettino the captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia , which ran aground off Italy's Tuscan coast speaks during a TV interview in Porto Santo Stefano Italy Saturday Jan. 14, 2012. Firefighters worked Sunday to rescue a crew member with a suspected broken leg from the overturned hulk of the luxury cruise liner Costa Concordia, 36 hours after it ran aground..
Anonymous / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans after it ran aground off the coast of Isola del Giglio island, Italy, gashing open the hull and forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to the nearby Isola del Giglio island, early Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. About 1,000 Italian passengers were onboard, as well as more than 500 Germans, about 160 French and about 1,000 crew members.
Giorgio Fanciulli / AP2012
This picture made available on Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012 by DigitalGlobe, satellite image made on Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012, shows the hulk of the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia, which ran aground the Tuscan tiny island of Isola del Giglio, Italy, on Friday, leaning on its starboard side. As the Costa Concordia keeps shifting on its rocky ledge, many has raised the prospect of an environmental disaster if the 2,300 tonnes of fuel on the half-submerged cruise ship leaks. Satellites are used to monitor the area while authorities are preparing to remove the fuel from inside the vessel.
Anonymous / AP2012
People stop and look the cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its side, after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. A helicopter on Sunday airlifted a third survivor from the capsized hulk of a luxury cruise ship 36 hours after it ran aground off the Italian coast, as prosecutors confirmed they were investigating the captain for manslaughter charges and abandoning the ship.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
Passengers of the luxury ship that ran aground off the coast of Tuscany arrive on a ferry in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, gashing open the hull and taking on water, forcing some 4,200 people aboard to evacuate aboard lifeboats to a nearby island early Saturday. At least three were dead, the Italian coast guard said. Three bodies were recovered from the sea, said Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
In this photo made using a long exposure, a ferry boat, at right. passes the cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its side after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. In foreground, a floating barrier is used to prevent an eventual oil spill from the ship. In response to a question at a press conference in London, Italian premier Mario Monti acknowledged Wednesday concern about a potential leak of the 500,000 gallons of fuel aboard the ship. He says authorities had made limiting and preventing leaks a priority, as well as caring for victims.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
People stop and look the cruise ship Costa Concordia leaning on its side, after it ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. A helicopter on Sunday airlifted a third survivor from the capsized hulk of a luxury cruise ship 36 hours after it ran aground off the Italian coast, as prosecutors confirmed they were investigating the captain for manslaughter charges and abandoning the ship.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its starboard side off the port at Giglio after running aground on the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said. The number of dead and injured is not yet confirmed Coast Guard Cmdr. Francesco Paolillo said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
Italian naval divers recover a body from the cruise ship Costa Concordia, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2012. Italian media say five bodies have been found aboard a cruise ship capsized off the coast of Tuscany, raising the official death toll to 11. Teams have been searching the ship for passengers and crew missing since the Costa Concordia struck rocks Friday evening and capsized. Rescuers exploded four holes in the hull of the ship earlier Tuesday to gain easier access to areas that had not yet been searched.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
In this photo taken on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, Francesco Schettino the captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Italy's Tuscan coast, enters a Carabinieri car in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. A helicopter on Sunday airlifted a third survivor from the capsized hulk of a luxury cruise ship 36 hours after it ran aground off the Italian coast, as prosecutors confirmed they were investigating the captain for manslaughter charges and abandoning the ship.
Enzo Russo / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia lays on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. A luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
The cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side after running aground the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012. The $450 million Costa Concordia cruise ship was carrying more than 4,200 passengers and crew when it slammed into a reef Friday off the tiny Italian island of Giglio after the captain made an unauthorized maneuver. The death toll stands at 11, with 22 people still missing.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
An Italian firefighter helicopter lifts a rescued passenger from the luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia which ran aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012. Firefighters worked Sunday to rescue a crew member with a suspected broken leg from the overturned hulk of the cruise liner, 36 hours after it ran aground. More than 40 people are still unaccounted-for.
Gregorio Borgia / AP2012
The luxury cruise ship Costa Concordia leans on its side as after running aground off the tiny Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012. The luxury cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Tuscany, sending water pouring in through a 160-foot (50-meter) gash in the hull and forcing the evacuation of some 4,200 people from the listing vessel early Saturday, the Italian coast guard said.
Enzo Russo / AP2012
RETRANSMISSION FOR ALTERNATIVE CROP In this photo taken on Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, and made available, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, Francesco Schettino, right, the captain of the luxury cruiser Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Italy's Tuscan tiny island of Isola del Giglio, is taken into custody by Carabinieri in Porto Santo Stefano, Italy. Schettino, released on Tuesday, and currently under house arrest in his hometown of Meta di Sorrento, southern Italy, is investigated for manslaughter charges and abandoning the ship.
Giacomo Aprili / AP2012

For days, images of the cruise ship Costa Concordia helplessly capsized in Mediterranean waters have dominated news media around the world.

Eleven people have been confirmed dead, with more than two dozen still missing.

In a state that expects to see more than 400 cruise-ship sailings with nearly a million passengers this summer, it's difficult to look at the images of the Costa Concordia and not wonder: Could it happen in Alaska?

"It kind of gives us a little wake-up call," said Rick Janelle, a civilian U.S. Coast Guard employee based in Juneau who acts as an adviser on cruise ship safety.

"HUMAN ERROR"

The Costa Concordia's sinking unfolded with nightmarish speed and no clear leadership after the captain apparently abandoned ship before all passengers had been evacuated, Janelle said.

"Consequently there was chaos," he said.

An incident like that is unlikely to happen in Alaska because of government-mandated safeguards, drills and preparedness plans, Janelle said.

There have been questions as to whether the Italian ship conducted adequate safety briefings, required by law, for passengers.

It's a sobering look at a worst-case scenario, Janelle said.

"I think it's going to put more emphasis on the importance of preparing," he said. "Not only for major cruise ships but for the ports that cruise ships pass by."

The Italian owners of the ship have said "human error" caused the captain, Francesco Schettino, to strike an underwater rock off the coast of Italy just a few hours into the voyage. He had deviated from the planned route in order to take the ship closer to an island, according to news reports.

In Alaska, cruise ship captains are required by state law to have a local navigational pilot onboard, said Janelle. It's unclear whether a local pilot was onboard the Costa Concordia because it was traveling between ports.

Onboard pilots are "one huge safety factor," he said.

Maritime pilots are experts on local navigational routes, currents and hazards that help to maneuver ships through waterways that are narrow, treacherous, congested -- or all three.

Plenty of those exist in Alaska, where extreme tides and waterways littered with underwater hazards are the norm, said Capt. Richard Gurry, a maritime pilot and the president of the Southeast Alaska Pilots' Association.

The accident in Italy would have been "highly unlikely to near impossible" if a local navigational pilot had been aboard the Costa Concordia, said Gurry.

In a statement Tuesday, Carnival said all ships operated by the company -- which dominates the cruise-ship market in Alaska with its Princess and Holland America subsidiaries-- undergo frequent inspections and hold passenger lifeboat drills.

"We are still awaiting further information from the investigation to understand the cause of the accident," said Vance Gulliksen of the Miami-based company. "As we find out more, we will apply lessons learned and update our procedures accordingly."

Response plans and cooperation could also help prevent the loss of life seen in the Costa Concordia, said Janelle.

In case of a major incident, the U.S. Coast Guard would partner with local communities to respond, Janelle said.

Seward, Kodiak, Juneau, Ketchikan, Homer and Whittier have port-specific response plans in case a cruise ship sinks. Similar plans are being developed for Sitka, Skagway, Anchorage, Valdez and other areas, he said.

Each year before the cruise season begins, industry reps, emergency personnel, the Coast Guard and others meet to "align expectations of who does what, when and how," he said.

CARNIVAL'S REACH

Some 48 percent of all visitors to Alaska in the summer of 2010 came on a cruise ship, according to the state's Division of Economic Development.

Carnival Cruise Lines, an industry giant which owns the Costa Concordia, has a single ship that sails under its name in Alaska, the Carnival Spirit. But Carnival and its subsidiary brands Holland America and Princess represent about 60 percent of the market in the state, according to the Alaska Cruise Association.

The economic fallout of the Costa Concordia may take months or years to measure.

Industry experts have said the time between January and March is considered prime for cruise bookings, and the Costa Concordia incident may have a lasting impact on the psyches of would-be cruisers, leading to a drop in reservations.

So far, dire predications have yet to materialize.

Alaska expects 947,000 cruise ship visitors for the summer of 2012, said John Binkley, the president of the Alaska Cruise Association.

That's the highest volume since 2008 or 2009, he said.

Buckwheat Donahue, the director of the Skagway Convention and Visitors Bureau and a 30-year resident of the Inside Passage town, isn't worried. People understand that the Italy case was due to a rogue captain who "screwed up," he said.

Alaska's cruise industry has a good safety record in part because of the onboard local pilots, Donahue said.

So far, the state's maritime disasters have been of a different sort.

"It's not like we have an Exxon Valdez kind of thing happening up here with cruise ships," he said.

Reach Michelle Theriault Boots at mtheriault@adn.com or 257-4344.


By MICHELLE THERIAULT BOOTS
Anchorage Daily News