The sinking of the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia, the evacuation of more than 4,000 passengers and the search for survivors has captivated the world for the past week. The accident has raised questions about the safety of cruise ships carrying millions around the world each year. Through the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise and Coast Guard sectors, the U.S. Coast Guard oversees the industry to ensure the safety of passengers aboard U.S. flagged ships or foreign ships operating out of American ports.
The center, one of seven such organizations around the country, is literally located in the heart of cruise ship country in South Florida – where 80 percent of U.S. cruise ships are homeported.
“Each center is unique but they all have foundations that are common,” said Capt. Gordon Loebl, chief of Travel Inspectors and Centers of Expertise for the Coast Guard. “It’s about setting up a crossroads between Coast Guard inspectors and investigators and the industries they regulate.”
Coast Guard personnel assigned to the center serve as in-house consultants to trainees who will become cruise ship inspectors and investigators responsible for ensuring the safe operation of cruise ships. Conventions governing vessel stability, fire safety, lifesaving equipment, pollution prevention and general safety standards are established by the International Maritime Organization and enforced by the Coast Guard.
“The mission of the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise is to promote safety aboard cruise ships by serving as the liaison between the cruise ship industry and the Coast Guard,” said Lt. j.g. Michael Metz, a Coast Guard marine inspector stationed at the Center of Expertise.
Cruise ships are huge, complex machines that are only getting bigger. The maritime industry strives on innovation, and cruise ships are no different. With the dynamic needs and rapid changes in the industry it is people like the professionals at the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise who ensure our ability to oversee the industry and make cruise ships safer.
The center performs examinations on foreign cruise ships operating in the area, hosts training courses for Coast Guard students who inspect cruise ships nationwide and develops best practices for standards in the industry. Civilian Coast Guard employees at the center, who come directly from the industry, play a huge part in gaining in-depth knowledge about cruise ships and their unique challenges.
Trainees receive exposure to every facet of the cruise industry, including spending several months with a cruise line learning the ins and outs of operating a cruise ship. Through immersion with industry, inspectors and investigators at the center take their knowledge and best practices to make the Coast Guard as a whole better at what they do.
“The center creates a unique interface for Coast Guard and industry to have a place to establish and maintain real, valuable dialogue,” said Loebl. “One of the Coast Guard’s principles of strengthening our partnerships is directly manifested here.”
“I find value in what we do here,” added Metz. “We ensure people’s safety.”