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Benidorm residents Renee & Tony Dipple

The Costa Concordia was on a trip around the Mediterranean when it hit a reef on Friday 13th January near the Italian island of Giglio. To date the disaster has claimed 15 lives with at least a further 19 passengers unaccounted for. Adding insult to injury, survivors of the tragedy have been offered a 30% discount on their next cruise amid claims that the company is trying to reduce the damage from an impending lawsuit, which could cost it more than £100 million in compensation.
Benidorm residents Renne and Tony Dipple shudder at the headlines of this catastrophe having just been on the Costa Concordia a few weeks previously. They are seasoned "crusier's" having been on about twelve prior to this one and I was wondering whether this will have put them off. They invited me into their home in Benidorm where they have lived for the last 10 years having made the move from Surrey - in fact they didn't actually intend on living here at all. On retirement some 12 years ago they bought a boat and planned to cruise the Med - but the boat sank off Torrevieja so they came and stayed with some friends in Benidorm whilst deciding their next move. They loved the area so much that the decision was made.

Image of stricken liner no-one will forget

Renee and Tony booked their 9 day cruise departing from Barcelona on 21st December. There were aprox. 3800 passengers made up mainly of Italian, Spanish, French and 30 British passengers  - as well as the 1200 crew. As it covered Christmas there were many families with small children - a thought that chills Renee as she watches the television coverage of people scrambling down the side of the tilting liner. The overriding concern which they both raised was the lack of evacuation drill procedure in the event of an emergency. Having been on many cruises they knew how to put on their life vests but the Costa Concordia fell seriously short for newbys. On arrival day they were notified of a lifeboat drill which everyone was suppose to attend. You a supplied with an emergency card with all your basic information which you bring to the drill. In the event of an evacuation you are meant to hand the card over as you board the lifeboat so that the crew can keep account of the passengers. They were told to leave their cards so that the crew could check who had attended the drill, in this case 12 came but they were never given back over the 9 day duration! Tony did complain about this and was told that "we have ways of identifying you". They were shown a very basic video but there was no demonstration to show how to put the life vest on. In fact, Renee and Tony came to the drill with theirs in hand as was the routine on all the previous cruises they had been on and they were the only ones which did. There was no information on muster stations (meeting points) in the case of an emergency so neither are surprised at the footage of panic being screened.
On day 3 Tony did ask the English rep whether there would be another drill and his response was "it would take over 2 hours for the ship to go down so plenty of time for everyone to get off " quite a chilling statement in the light of what happened on the following trip!
They told me that normally when the boat docks at the various ports they test the life boats. On a Fred Olsen cruise they had been on previously one of them wouldn't come down and it was immediately replaced before the ship set sail. None of the lifeboats on the Concordia were tested - something which all the British passengers commented on over dinner with one jokingly asking whether they would actually work if needed.

Opulent interior of the Costa Concordia

They both got to know members of the crew well, especially the waiters who served them every day and  pray that they did not perish in this tragedy. Also a concern that Renee raised was in the event of such an incident when the power fails, how are the physically immobile passengers suppose to get to the evacuation decks when the lifts are not working. Renee and Tony's room was on deck 1, very close to where the liner struck the reef gauging a huge hole in its side and the though makes them both shiver.
Overall, aside from the lack of drill the cruise was very enjoyable Tony told me - apart from the well known fact about drink prices that is. Living in Spain we are rather spoilt but I must say, 29€ PLUS 15% surcharge for the cheapest bottle of wine did make my eyes water.
On departure they did leave comment forms but somehow I think that Costa have other things to deal with at the moment - shame as they could possibly have learnt something from Renee and Tony.

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