American Cruise Lines Adopting Interporting ! But it needs to be Safer !

Two U.S.-based cruise lines are poised to test the waters of interporting, a practice historically offered by European lines that enables passengers to choose from multiple embarkation ports. 

Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International will soon offer this option on certain ships, and Italy-based
MSC Cruises will expand the practice to the Caribbean

Their plans would be less noteworthy had it not been for the Costa Concordia accident, which occurred after more than 600 passengers boarded the 3,200-passenger ship in Civitavecchia, Italy, the port for Rome. Others had boarded earlier in Barcelona

That double embarkation cast a spotlight on interporting because none of the 600 had participated in a muster drill prior to the Concordia’s grounding on Jan. 13, which happened within a few hours of departing Civitavecchia

Under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (Solas), cruise ships must hold their safety briefings within 24 hours of setting sail. 

The Concordia officers were operating within the framework of the rule, but some have pointed out that the evacuation of the ship, which struck rocks off Italy’s coast and became half-submerged, would have been less chaotic, and perhaps less deadly, if everyone onboard had been primed for an emergency. 

Sixteen Concordia passengers were confirmed dead after the grounding, and 16 remain missing. 

Generally, interport options are seen as a convenience to cruise passengers and sometimes are offered as an incentive to attract certain source markets. 

In light of the Concordia accident, cruise lines that plan to begin interporting are citing their safety procedures that require muster drills or evacuation briefings on any day that new passengers board their ships. 

Royal Caribbean International’s 2,100-passenger Brilliance of the Seas will embark passengers in San Juan and Guadeloupe on a series of seven-night Southern Caribbean cruises during the 2012-13 winter season. 

According to Royal Caribbean spokesman Harry Liu, the choice is meant to appeal to South American customers, who might prefer joining the ship in Guadeloupe rather than San Juan. Most Americans and Canadians will board in San Juan, he added. 

Passengers joining the ship at either port must participate in a mandatory group or personal muster drill on embarkation day. 

The ship will alternate two seven-night Southern Caribbean itineraries, sailing roundtrip from San Juan every Saturday. 

On one itinerary, the ship will call at St. Thomas, St. Lucia, Antigua and St. Croix. On the other itinerary, calls will be made at Tortola, St. Maarten, St. Kitts and Barbados, Liu said. 

“On both itineraries, the Brilliance of the Seas will call at Guadeloupe on Wednesday, where the ship will offer interporting,” he said. “Passengers must remain onboard for the full seven days, regardless of where they embark.” 

Following the Concordia accident, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (RCCL) tightened its safety policy to require that all safety drills must be held on the day of departure. RCCL brands include Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara. 

Starting in April, Norwegian Cruise Line will offer three embarkation ports when the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic begins its Europe season. 

Passengers will be able to board the ship in Barcelona, Civitavecchia or Marseille, France, during the Epic’s seven-day Western Mediterranean cruises. 

As with Royal Caribbean, passengers must complete a full seven-day cruise; they can’t use the interport option to book a shorter, Marseille-to- 
Barcelona sailing, for instance. 

“In all ports where we embark passengers, we hold a safety drill prior to the ship’s departure,” said AnneMarie Matthews, Norwegian’s vice president of public relations. “This includes Norwegian Epic’s Western Mediterranean itinerary. All guests are required to attend the safety drill and report to their lifeboat assembly stations.” 

For MSC, a longtime option in Europe

MSC Cruises began hinting last year that the line was exploring whether to bring an interport option to its Caribbean deployments. It’s been offering the option in Europe for years. 

By late 2011, it had rolled out a plan to enable passengers to board its 1,560-passenger Lirica in either Martinique or Guadeloupe on seven-day cruises. The option will be in effect for the 2012-13 season. 

MSC categorizes its embarkation points into main ports, where the majority of passengers will board, and secondary ports, where fewer passengers board. In the Lirica’s case, Martinique will be the main port, said Gail Nicolaus, the line’s vice president of marketing and public relations. 

“When embarking an MSC Cruises ship in one of the main ports, all guests are requested to participate in a one-hour safety drill conducted in the six official languages and any other language spoken by our guests onboard,” she said. 

The drill involves the full crew and simulates the evacuation process; passengers muster at their lifeboat station with life jackets. 

In secondary ports, she explained, a “detailed safety briefing” is held before departure for all newly embarked passengers. 

“The safety briefing is normally held in a dedicated area, usually the theater or at a muster station, and does not involve the whole crew,” Nicolaus said. “[It is] conducted by a group of social hostesses and [other crew members] who help guests to familiarize themselves with the safety equipment and procedures.” 

MSC’s drills are held, she added, “as soon as possible after embarkation time and always within the Solas 24-hour limit.” 

On MSC ships in Europe, Nicolaus said, the main port for Eastern Mediterranean cruises is Venice, and for the Western Mediterranean, it’s Genoa, Italy

MSC said the interport option in Martinique and Guadeloupe was primarily geared to the line’s French customers, with air-inclusive packages on France-based Corsair Airlines. 

Veteran cruise agent Amber Blecker, who owns a CruiseOne franchise in Aurora, Colo., said she applauds the lines for offering additional flexibility for passengers. 

“However, I doubt it will be an attractive choice in the Caribbean for American cruisers,” Blecker said. “I do see it as more of a benefit to international passengers who may find the alternative embarkation ports more convenient or less expensive to access.” 

It’s another story entirely in Europe for the Norwegian Epic, said the agent.  

“There, I could easily see American passengers utilizing the alternatives to take advantage of pre- or post-cruise touring options available with a different origination point,” Blecker said.