What happens to my valuables on a shipwreck?

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Note: The “Problem Solved” column normally deals with non-travel issues that are fixable, but a recent reader question prompted me to make an exception. Fran Perry is curious about what happened to the valuables belonging to the Costa Concordia’s victims. I dredge up an answer.

Question: I’m curious to know what has become or will become of the contents of the passengers’ in-room safes aboard the Costa Concordia. I’m sure there was a great deal of cash and valuable jewelry in those safes, which passengers did not have time to remove during the emergency.

Were efforts made to return the safe contents to passengers or does everything belong to the salvagers? Or is it all simply lost?

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group. Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

Fran Perry, Jupiter, Fla.

Answer: The Costa Concordia sank in the shallow waters near Isola del Giglio on Italy’s western coast in January 2012, killing 32 people. Most of its starboard side was underwater until the ship was refloated this summer and towed to Genoa, where it was scrapped.

The rights of passengers and of the cruise line are detailed in the International Convention on Salvage. Under Article 5 of that agreement, the salvage operation would be subject to Italian law.

As a practical matter, any valuables that couldn’t be recovered after the sinking would have been covered either by the passenger’s travel insurance or by Costa’s insurance. So, in a sense, the passengers with claims have already been made whole (or at least as whole as they could be under their policies).

But not everything can be replaced. Presumably, some of the passengers would have mementos such as jewelry with sentimental value. So even if insurance covered these items, does that mean Costa gets to haul them down to the flea market in Genoa and sell them?

Actually, no. I checked with the cruise line, and it said it recovered the safes with personal belongings from 435 of a total of 1,500 cabins.

“They have been removed by the Coast Guard and stored in a warehouse under their supervision,” a Costa spokeswoman told me.

In other words, not all of the safes are in the warehouse yet — only the ones accessible before the Concordia’s refloating. The rest of the boxes, which only recently came out of the water, are “under evaluation,” according to Costa.

“The timing and the way for returning those goods to their legitimate owners will be defined in the upcoming weeks,” she adds. “As soon as such process is defined and approved by the judicial authorities, the company will inform the relevant guests accordingly.”

So, if you left your tennis bracelet in the Concordia’s safe, chances are you’ll get it — eventually. To the question of what happens with your valuables on a shipwreck, there’s no easy answer. It depends on where the ship goes down and who is doing the salvaging.

I’m a travel insurance skeptic, but one takeaway from the Concordia disaster is clear to me. If you’re bringing valuables, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got a good insurance policy. Because you never know when the ship might go down.

Did Costa handle the valuables belonging to passengers correctly?

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