Can Costa Cruiselines Survive Two Calamities?

PHOTO: The Costa Allegra and Costa Concordia Cruise Ships

Who says lightning can't strike twice? It has jolted Costa Cruise Lines two times in the past six weeks. The first time was off the coast of Italy in January and then again this week in remote waters off the coast of Africa.

Eleanor and Gordon Bradwell of Athens, Ga., thought they were going on 30-day dream cruise through the Indian Ocean and the Middle East.aboard the Costa Allegra.

Instead, they ended up enduring a three-day ordeal, stranded at sea after fire destroyed the ship's generator.

The Bradwells and more than 1,000 other passengers and crew were hostages of the sweltering tropical heat on a ship with no power, no air-conditioning, no working toilets and no kitchens.

"It could have been so much worse," said Gordon Bradwell. "It could have been a disaster of biblical proportions, if that fire had gotten out of control. We were a long way from help. Then who knows what the results could have been."

The Bradwells were at lunch on Monday when they heard seven short beeps and a long beep: the signal to abandon ship.

"There was a good bit of chaos and confusion," said Gordon as he described the moments that followed. "They began to lower the boats, and at that point we thought we were probably going to go into the boats."

"They were very disorganized," said Eleanor, "totally disorganized, unprofessional in the way they handled it."

The fire was extinguished, no one was injured and everyone could stay on the ship.

But it was much worse six weeks ago when another Costa Cruise Lines ship, the much bigger Costa Concordia, ran aground and toppled over off the Italy's Tuscan coast.

PHOTOS: Inside the Costa Concordia Cruise Ship Tragedy

More than 4,000 passengers and crew had to abandon ship in the middle of the night. Thirty-two people died in that incident.

When the Bradwells boarded the Costa Allegra in Mauritius last week, they knew it was part of the same cruise line as the ill-fated Costa Concordia. Eleanor Bradwell said she simply assumed the Concordia disaster was an aberration. "After the Concordia you think this won't happen again."

It did. The Bradwells -- Gordon is 72, Eleanor is "somewhere in that range" -- spent three nights sleeping on deck chairs under the stars. Their cabin was uninhabitable, fluctuating between 100 degrees and 110 degrees. The toilets couldn't be flushed, leaving the odor of sewage hanging in the dense humid air.

After enduring all that, I asked Eleanor Bradwell if she would go on a cruise again.

"Well," she said, "we would cruise but I will not cruise with Costa. Ever."

A lot of people seem to be saying that these days. After the Jan. 13 wreck of the Concordia Costa's bookings dropped an estimated 30 percent.

Now the company faces a public relations nightmare, its brand associated with two high-profile mishaps at sea.

It's official name is Costa Crociere, an Italian company based in Genoa. But Costa is wholly owned by the British-American giant Carnival Corp., the world's largest cruise ship operator. (Full disclosure: The parent company of ABC News, the Walt Disney Co., also operates a cruise line.)

Since Carnival bought Costa in 2000, the company's fleet has multiplied from five to 14 ships. In 2010, it carried 2.15 million passengers while sales increased 12 percent to $3.8 billion. Costa is Carnival's largest subsidiary.

Now that future of that valuable brand is in peril.

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