While all 571 passengers and crew were safely rescued from the sinking Oceanos off the coast of South Africa, the cause of the ship's flooding and subsequent sinking has still not been determined, according to Art Lubin, President of Epirotiki Lines. According to Lubin, an investigation as to the cause of the sinking is being undertaken by South African authorities and Epirotiki.

Extensive media coverage of the incident has focused on the actions of the captain and crew members. It has been reported that Captain Yiannis Avranas was one of the first to be rescued by helicopter, leaving the entertainment staff to direct the evacuation of the many remaining elderly passengers. However, other reports stated that the captain felt it was best if he directed the evacuation from land. According to Lubin, all the facts are not in yet as to the acuons of the captain and crew. Lubin said that the captain "had a plan which seemed to work." "The end result was that all were saved," said Lubin.

This is the second disaster for Epirotiki Lines this year. In early June, the 832-passenger Pegasus burned while at the pier in Venice. In 1988, the Jupiter sank after an accident off of Greece.

Safety

This incident onboard the Oceanos, however, has touched off a debate as to whether older ships are as safe as newer ships. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of the North American cruise fleet is over 30 years old. However, other than the 39-year-old Oceanos, all recent cruise ship fires or accidents have not been on ships over 30 years. For example, last year the Crystal Harmony, in her first few months of operation, had a fire in the engine room. Earlier this summer, Premier Cruise Lines' 19-year-old Star/Ship Majestic also had a fire onboard. And last year, the most disastrous incident of all was the fatal fire onboard the 19-year-old Scandinavian Star.

The subject of cruise ship safety has been a prominent issue lately and the International Maritime Organization will vote on new fire safety standards next April or October which would affect all cruise ships.

Unwritten Rule of the Sea

While no passenger ship or cruise ship captain may actually have gone down with his ship in peace time since the sinking of the Titanic, the unwritten rule of the sea is that the captain is the last to leave.

Yet, a random sample of cruise line executives interviewed by this newsletter said that they did not have a specific policy on that particular issue. In case of evacuation, passengers would be evacuated in lifeboats and rafts as may be necessary with the help of crew members, and there would be crew members onboard to operate the vessels. They said that the captain would be in charge of any evacuation and that it was his responsibility to make sure that all passengers and crew had safely left the vessel.

"When it comes down to it, it will depend on the captain and his officers," said one executive who declined to be identified. He added, however, that their job may be made more difficult by crews and hotel staff who may have little discipline and often show little loyalty to their ship. He said that some cruise lines "have been buying officers, crew and staff on the basis of cost."

He also pointed out that in the case of the Oceanos, while the captain's early departure may seem wrong, what counts is that all the passengers and crew were safely rescued.