Cruise passengers ponder compensation
Berlin - Herbert Greszuk was at the bar on the fifth deck of the Costa Concordia when the ill-fated luxury liner hit a reef.
Unable to get back to his second-deck cabin after the emergency signal came, he made it to a lifeboat with only the clothes on his back -leaving behind everything he had with him for the cruise, including his tuxedo, camera, jewellery, €400 in cash, credit cards, identity papers and even his dentures.
The 62-year-old, who runs a small flower shop and cafe in the western German town of Recklinghausen, counts himself lucky to have escaped the ship after it capsized on January 13, leaving at least 16 dead and 16 still missing.
But, he estimates that he lost at least €10 000 in goods alone. He's only one of the 4 200 passengers and crew who were on board and will likely want compensation, and material loss just scratches the surface.
There's the ruined holiday, physical and mental trauma, and payments to families of the dead, among other things, in an incident many believe was preventable.
"It's about accountability," Greszuk said in a telephone interview from his cafe. "Something like this must not be allowed to happen again. So many people died; it's simply inexcusable."
In Rome on Thursday, representatives of ship operator Costa Crociere SpA met with consumer activists to discuss a blanket compensation deal for around 3 206 people from 61 countries who suffered no physical harm when the ship hit the reef.
The offer would consider the price of the ticket, costs incurred in getting home after the disaster, the cost of items lost aboard the ship as well as damages for the ruined vacation and trauma resulting from the accident, said Furio Truzzi of the consumer group Assoutenti.
It would not apply to the hundreds of crew on the ship, the roughly 100 cases of people injured or the families who lost loved ones.
"We are working for a collective transaction to come up with a value for damages," Truzzi said. "Each passenger can decide if this proposal is satisfactory. If it is not, they are free to react through a lawyer."
Truzzi said it was premature to discuss exact amounts of compensation. He said it would be an average and that any passenger who deemed his or her losses greater than the offer was free to counter the proposal.
He said Assoutenti would work separately on a proposal for those who lost loved ones in the disaster and was open to working with crew members.
The ship ran aground off the Tuscan island of Giglio after the captain, Francesco Schettino, veered from his approved course. Costa Crociere's chief executive, Pier Luigi Foschi, has said Schettino didn't have approval to change the course and was going too fast - 16 knots - to be so close to shore.
Schettino is under house arrest, facing accusations of manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning a ship before all passengers were evacuated.
Although it is still early and talk of compensation is ongoing, lawsuits are expected to be filed in Germany, Italy, the United States and elsewhere.
In France, the Justice Ministry said that complaints filed by French people have been brought together by the Paris prosecutors' office. It said 462 French passengers were aboard - four were killed and two remain missing.
Attorney Hans Reinhardt, who represents Greszuk and a dozen other German survivors, said passengers did sign liability wavers - a common requirement for cruises - but that he considers them void under the circumstances.
"You do not sign off on a disaster situation, what you sign there is for normal daily situations like if there is a little storm or high water or something like that," he said. "This was such a large failure by the captain and by Costa that you can sign whatever you want but you will still get your money."
Compensation for crew
Depending upon their individual situations, he said he is seeking between €10 000 and €50 000 for his clients and would wait for three months to see if Costa would settle before taking the matter to court.
Though the cruise company is Italian, Costa's parent company is Miami-based Carnival Corporation and Reinhardt said he was trying to determine which could be held responsible for the incident. If it's Carnival, he said he would pursue his case in the US, where damages awarded tend to be higher than in Germany.
The company also faces the question of compensation for crew members who have lost their jobs because of the accident, not to mention the costs of salvaging the ship and of a possible environmental disaster if the unused fuel cannot be safely removed.
Salvage experts worked on Thursday so they could begin pumping tons of fuel off the ship starting on Saturday to avert an environmental catastrophe. The stricken ship lies in pristine waters that are prime fishing grounds and part of a protected area for dolphins and whales.
German reinsurers Hannover Re AG and Munich Re AG, two of the world's largest, both said this week that liability claims from the fatal capsizing could run in the triple-digit millions of euros. Swiss Re, the other reinsurance powerhouse, said on Thursday it was still too early to even guess what it might cost.
Reinsurers offer backup policies to companies writing primary insurance policies, which helps spread the risk around so the system can handle large losses from disasters.
Loss in bookings
Carnival has said it has liability insurance, though with a €7,6m deductible. Of the so-called "hull insurance," which covers damage to the ship, Carnival is responsible for the first €23m in damage, while the rest is covered by a network of insurers led by XL Group.
Carnival also said it expects to lose €65m to €72m in bookings on the ship that have had to be cancelled.
Meantime, Greszuk said he has been trying to piece together his life -getting a new driver's license, credit cards, passport and other identity documents - but is feeling abandoned by those responsible for his plight.
"I feel so lost and alone," he said. "Nobody is helping us out. Neither Costa nor the travel agency have contacted me - do you know how that feels? I called the travel agency and they said 'it's not our problem any more, call Costa'. I called Costa and they said they'd get back to me, but as of today, I haven't heard a word."