I love cruises!! I have been on three and from the onboard entertainment, casinos and art auctions to the glorious high quality foods – I feel there’s something for everyone aboard a vessel but on Friday January 13th 2012, the cruising industry was hit hard with one of the worst disasters seen of its kind.
Costa Concordia ran aground near Isola del Giglio Tuscany, Italy after Captain Francesco Schettino manoeuvred an off-course, unauthorized adjustment to pre-programmed route. Approximately 4,200 passengers and crew members felt the boat hit the shore rocks at 21:40 and an abandon ship announcement was issued at 22:58.
Here are the some of the facts I know for sure:
– Captain Schettino and all of his officers were the first to board a lifeboat meanwhile crew members were helping with evacuation efforts of passengers
– Harbour Master orders Captain Schettino to return on the vessel and assist with the evacuation but Schettino refuses… this video is priceless!!
– The evacuation took over 6 hours and it was reported 32 lives were lost (2 individuals were noted as missing and presumed dead)
– Captain Schettino was charged with manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship
– Burson-Marsteller was hired to handle the public relations
This situation was a complete tragedy! Mistakes were made and lives were lost! Evacuation efforts consisted of only being able to use a fraction of the lifeboats because of the dangerous 20 degree angle of the ship, some passengers were forced to use a rope ladder while other had to jump off the boat to arrive onshore.
After sitting back and really analyzing the facts, I have to say the overall Costa Concordia crisis management was handled well! Human error was acknowledged early on (a smart move for Costa to distance themselves from the captain’s actions) and within the first 24 hours:
– News releases and a press conference was given onsite by Costa CEO Pier Luigi Fosch indicating that passengers and victims were first priority
– Subsequent press releases kept the media up to date on:
- Cleanup, passenger safety, thanking the Italian authorities and coast guard, call to evaluate procedures, focus on future health and safety, updates on the captain
– Salvage experts Smit Salvage BV were hired to recover the fuel
– A hotline was activated
– Emergency contacts were called
– Costa Cruises positioned itself as a sympathetic partner: “Your expressions of sympathy are truly precious to us in these trying times.”
The most important thing to note is that a crisis manual existed and was put in place but if I had to critique the crisis strategy and suggest 3 things that I would have done differently, they would be the following:
1) Remove the social media blackout noted in Costa’s crisis manual to at least get an immediate tweet, Facebook update or post out once the news broke! Subsequent social media updates should have been given with a direct link to the press releases, conference videos etc. to further assist with telling the story Costa wanted to tell. It’s unfortunate this incident happened period! But for it to happen on the Friday night of the Martin Luther King Day long weekend… this became the rolling news on Saturday and an immediate statement before the Saturday 5pm press conference was needed
2) All staff and crew should have been advised as part of their training 101 to NEVER speak to the media! I know that my former employer made this clear and as part of our annual business continuity planning refresher, we had to acknowledge that in case of an emergency we are not to speak with the press. Therefore Costa should have immediately designated a spokesperson to connect with the media prior to the press conference
3) A picture is worth a thousand words – so could we not have put up huge screens to avoid furthering the image of the boat being capsized? Sure we can’t avoid the aerial views but lets at least avoid the crippling image of the boat being the backdrop for the news reporters!
And as a bonus here is my fourth recommendation – rumors were circulating that Costa was offering passengers onboard discount travels for future cruises; now while this was a hoax, Costa did not address the issue directly and the grapevine was exploding with inaccurate information.
Again, many things were done correctly to avoid the imminent reputational damage, environmental risk factors and first and foremost, acknowledgement to the crew and passengers for their heroic efforts and the devastation of the 32 lives lost. As you can imagine this is an extremely complicated matter but a success story of a PR Crisis Averted!