The causes of the tragic capsizing of the cruise liner Costa Concordia will hopefully soon be found.
But seafarers and their unions around the world have been warning about the safety standards on board ships for years.
By those accounts ships at greatest risk are those that sail under a "flag of convenience" (the practice of registering a merchant ship in a sovereign state different from that of the ship's owners). This avoids complying with the more stringent safety and training regulations imposed on ships registered in more economically developed countries.
However as Andrew Linington of the Nautilus International union pointed out (Guardian 16/01/12) there are also big safety questions about modern cruise liners.
The size of these vessels has doubled in the last 30 years whilst the lifeboats and evacuation procedures remain unchanged. 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 has been workers organising along with public outrage after accidents that has forced many of safety improvements.
In the last 40 years the globalisation of the shipping industry has intensified to a massive degree. Crews are multilingual and multinational. Unions need to respond by intensifying their international organisational work and campaigning.
Organising seafarers across the oceans of the world is not easy, but it’s vital to ensure safety at sea.