The luxury cruise liner that ran aground off the Italian coast has rattled even the most die-hard "cruisers" in an industry where catastrophic accidents are rare, but it's unlikely to do significant long-term damage.
The Costa Concordia hit a reef, tearing a massive gash into its hull and sending in a rush of water that caused it to tip over. The ordeal was described by many of the 4,234 people aboard as something akin to scenes from the film "Titanic." At least five people died, and 15 others remain unaccounted for.
Disasters of this magnitude don't strike often, especially considering the number of passengers traveling on cruise ships each year. The Cruise Lines International Association, an industry trade group, says on its website that more than 15 million passengers traveled on its member cruise lines in 2010.
That number was expected to climb to more than 16 million in 2011, CLIA said. The trade group counts 26 cruise lines among its members - including Costa and its parent company, Carnival Corp.
Industry observers said the disaster is unlikely to have a significant impact on cruise line travel.
"When a plane goes down, how many people stop flying?" said Stewart Chiron, who writes the blog CruiseGuy.com. "It's inevitable that a few people will be concerned, but I think most people understand that these things happen, and that the cruise industry as a whole has an incredible safety record."
Frequent cruise passengers were talking about the wreck on the website Cruisecritic. com, which counts about 700,000 members.
"Mostly it's shock and praying for the people on board," said the site's managing editor, John Deiner. He added there was "no real sense that they're going to stop cruising."
He also said, however, that it was too soon to tell exactly how the incident would affect bookings for future cruises. Furthermore, people who booked a trip aboard the Concordia may not know yet how the cruise line will handle their reservations.
Indeed the industry has grown significantly in recent years. According to CLIA, cruise lines set 12 new ships sailing in 2010, and added another 14 in 2011.
Carnival holds a large chunk of the cruise market - it says it carried nearly 50 percent of the world's cruise passengers in 2010. All told, there are 100 ships in the fleets of its various brands. The company is the parent of 10 cruise lines, among them Costa Cruises, Holland America Line, Prin-cess Cruises and Carnival Cruise Lines.
The industry's capacity has grown at an annual rate of 5.7 percent from 2005 to 2010, according to Carnival's regulatory filings.
The full extent of Carnival's liabilities as a result of the Costa Corncordia accident remains to be seen.
Jack Hickey, a Miami lawyer who has practiced maritime law for 32 years, said Costa Cruises will likely face legal consequences for a whole host of reasons, including the captain of the Costa Concordia's apparent decision not to immediately issue a mayday call and inability to properly navigate the ship before it ran aground.
However, he also said he doubted the accident would have a broad impact on the cruise industry.
"The cruise industry as a whole is pretty healthy, it's growing," he said. "It might affect bookings on Costa in the near term, certainly over the next year."