The press coverage of the capsizing of the cruise liner the Costa Concordia off the Tuscan coast has mainly focused on the actions of the captain and superficial similarities with the Titanic disaster 100 years ago. Hopefully the truth about the causes of this accident will be found and the culpability of the Captain or the Owners established. One thing we do know is seafarer's and their unions around the globe have been warning about the safety standards aboard ships for years.
There is much truth to the general view that those ships at greatest risk are those under "flags of Convenience" to avoid the more stringent safety and training regulations imposed on ships registered in the developed world. However as Andrew Linington of the Nautilus International union pointed out in his article for the Guardian (16/01/12) there are big safety questions about modern cruise liners too. The size of these vessels has doubled in the last 30 years whilst the lifeboats and evacuation procedures remain the same as 30 years ago. Regulators have not forced ship owners to adopt the newest safety measures and profit hungry owners are not going to spend any more than they have to. As with many industries it was workers organising and public outrage that forced many of the improvements.
Shipping has for obvious reasons long been the most international of industries. In the last 40 years this globalisation has intensified to a massive degree. Crews, more then in almost all other industries, are multilingual and multinational. The unions needed to respond to this by seeking to organise and campaign on a truly international scale, in general they have failed this challenge. Organising seafarers across the oceans of the world is not easy, but its vital to ensure safety at sea.