The Allure of the seas from Royal Caribbean International is the largest cruise ship in the world.
One of the largest cruise ships in 1985 was the 46,000-ton Carnival
Ten years ago, the biggest, the Queen Mary 2, was three times
Today’s record holders are two 225,000-ton ships whose
displacement, a measure of a ship’s weight, is about the same as that of
a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
Cruise ships have grown bigger and bigger in recent years
as cruising has become ever more popular.
Cruise ships keep growing bigger, and more popular.
The Cruise Lines
International Association said that last year its North American cruise
line members carried about 17 million passengers, up from seven million
But the expansion in ship size is worrying safety experts,
lawmakers and regulators, who are pushing for more accountability,
saying the supersize craze is fraught with potential peril for
passengers and crew.
“Cruise ships operate in a void from the standpoint of oversight and
enforcement,” said James E. Hall, a safety management consultant and the
chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board between 1994 and
2001. “The industry has been very fortunate until now.”
The perils were most visible last year when the Costa Concordia
owned by the Carnival Corporation, which is based in Miami, capsized
off the coast of Italy.
The accident killed 32 people and revealed fatal
lapses in safety and emergency procedures.
In February, a fire crippled the Carnival Triumph
stranding thousands without power for four days in the Gulf of Mexico
until the ship was towed to shore.
Pictures showed the ship’s stern blackened by flames and smoke.
Although most have not resulted in any casualties, the string of
accidents and fires has heightened concerns about the ability of
megaships to handle emergencies or large-scale evacuations at sea.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, introduced legislation
this summer that would strengthen federal oversight of cruise lines’ safety procedures and consumer protections.
Cruise operators point out that bigger ships have more fire safety
equipment, and contend they are safer.
After a fire aboard the Carnival
Splendor three years ago, Carnival adopted new training procedures and
added safety features that it says helped with the rapid detection and
suppression of the fire on the Triumph.
After the Triumph fire, Carnival also announced it would spend $700 million
to improve its safety operations, including $300 million on its fleet
of 24 Carnival Cruise Lines ships.
Carnival is the largest cruise
operator, owning about half of all cruise ships worldwide.
“We have over time improved the safety of our vessels by better training
and better technology and learning from incidents that have happened
over the years,” said Mark Jackson, Carnival’s vice president for
technical operations, who joined the company in January after 24 years
with the Coast Guard.
Staying the Course: The Challenge of Navigational Demand
Some experts doubt that ships can grow much larger than the current
behemoths, marvels of naval engineering that combine the latest
technology and entertainment.
Today’s biggest ship, Royal Caribbean’s
Allure of the Seas, has 2,706 rooms, 16 decks, 22 restaurants, 20 bars
and 10 hot tubs, as well as a shopping mall, a casino, a water park, a
half-mile track, a zip line, mini golf and Broadway-style live shows.
can accommodate nearly 6,300 passengers and 2,394 crew members — the
equivalent of a small town towering over the clear blue waters of the
It measures 1,188 feet long. Its sister ship, the Oasis
of the Seas, is two inches shorter.
Experts point out that larger ships have larger challenges.
instance, they have fewer options in an emergency, said Michael Bruno,
dean of the engineering school at the Stevens Institute of Technology in
Hoboken, N.J., and former chairman of the National Research Council’s
“Given the size of today’s ships, any problem immediately becomes a very
big problem,” he said.
“I sometimes worry about the options that are
A recent report
the Coast Guard on the Splendor fire revealed glaring problems with the
crew’s firefighting abilities as well as failures in fire safety
The investigation did not address the size of the ship, which carried
But it showed that big vessels can quickly become
crippled by small fires that disable complex systems.
No passengers were
hurt, but the damage to the engine room was severe, disabling the
ship’s power and forcing it to be towed to port in San Diego.
The investigation found a wide range of problems with the engine’s
maintenance history as well as missing fire safety records.
drills had been conducted in the engine room for six months.
sprinklers were turned off by mistake and then doused the wrong parts of
the engine room.
Believing the fire had been contained, the captain
vented the engine room to clear out the smoke. He reignited the fire
These incidents have brought new attention to the behavior of cruise
Rear Adm. Joseph Servidio, the Coast Guard’s assistant
commandant for prevention policy, said at a Senate hearing in July
the three fires, including the one aboard the Splendor, “highlight
serious questions about the design, maintenance and operation of fire
safety equipment on board these vessels, as well as their companies’
safety management cultures.”
In July, the Coast Guard said cruise ships would need to conduct periodic engine-room fire drills.
The risks of building bigger ships became apparent over a decade ago, as
cruise companies pushed the limits of naval architecture.
The head of
the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency in
charge of marine regulations, warned in 2000 of the growing hazards of
building larger ships and called for a comprehensive review of safety
rules, known as Safety of Life at Sea, or Solas.
William O’Neil, the
group’s secretary general at the time, said the industry could not “rely
on luck holding indefinitely.”
One result was a set of new global regulations in 2010 called the Safe
Return to Port rules.
Those require new ships to have sufficient
redundant systems, including power and steerage, to allow them to return
to port even in the worst emergency.
Only about 10 ships built since
then comply with this new rule.
“The idea is that a ship is its own best lifeboat,” said John Hicks, the
vice president for global passenger ships at Lloyds Register, the
largest ship classification society.
“The idea is to do everything to
keep the crew and passengers on a vessel.”
Bud Darr, the senior vice president for technical and regulatory affairs
at the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade
group, said today’s ships operated under layers of oversight.
Titanic and modern cruising ship comparison
The Coast Guard inspects each ship that calls at United States ports at
least once a year and enforces national and international norms.
auditors, hired by cruise operators, perform frequent safety reviews,
including comprehensive annual checks that last seven to 10 days, he
said, and flag countries like the Bahamas or Panama, where most cruise
ships are registered, provide their own oversight.
“We are subject to very close scrutiny,” Mr. Darr said.
“The standards are universal.”
But incidents like the Costa Concordia grounding have raised questions
about whether evacuation regulations are still applicable in the age of
Under the Solas regulations, for instance, passengers grouped
at their muster stations must be able to evacuate on lifeboats within
30 minutes of an evacuation alarm.
The investigation into the Costa Concordia revealed that the crew and
its captain failed to sound the general evacuation alarm for more than
an hour after rocks had breached the hull.
As a result, some lifeboats
could not be lowered once the ship started to list.
After the accident, cruise operators said they would change muster drill
Instead of holding a drill for passengers within 24 hours
of departure, cruise ships said they would do so before ships leave a
While ships are becoming bigger, the burden on crew members is growing.
The Queen Elizabeth 2, which was launched in 1969, had one crew member
for about 1.8 passengers. On the Triumph, the ratio was one crew member
for every 2.8 passengers. The issue is also complicated by language and
communication problems, and a high crew turnover rate that can reach 35
percent a year.
The International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents
seafarers and crew members, has expressed concerns about the evacuation
time and suggested the need to limit the number of people aboard ships,
depending on where they operate and what search-and-rescue facilities
“Experience has cast doubt on the adequacy of existing lifesaving
appliances,” the group said in a report.
“The current equipment,
especially lifeboats and life rafts, has proved to be inadequate when
confronted with high sea states.”
Safety rules also state that lifeboats should not carry more than 150
The World's Largest Sister Ships Meet: OASIS and ALLURE together for the first time
But the two largest ships, the Allure of the Seas and the Oasis
of the Seas, have much bigger lifeboats, for 370 people, because of a
provision of the 2010 rules that allows for exemptions if the cruise
line can demonstrate an equivalent level of safety.
Those bigger lifeboats have only enough room for passengers.
the more than 2,300 crew members, the ships are equipped with
inflatable rafts that would have to be entered through 59-foot
“The simple problem is they are building them too big and putting too
many people aboard,” said Capt. William H. Doherty, a former safety
manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines, the world’s third-largest cruise
operator, and now the director of maritime relations at the Nexus
Consulting Group. “My answer is they probably exceeded the point of
He added, “The magnitude of the problem is much bigger than the cruise industry wants to acknowledge.”
- National Post : Too big to sail: After a string of high-profile mishaps, have the world’s cruise ships gotten dangerously large?
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