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The Triumph Fire That Refuses To Go Out


This week, CNN broadcast an investigation into the Carnival Triumph "tragedy" — the five days the disabled ship spent floating without power in the Gulf of Mexico, a cruise which has indelicately been labeled "the poop cruise." Don't expect to find that listed on any cruise ship itinerary.

Having read and heard much about this cruise over the last 10 months, there were two things that jumped off the TV screen at us, one of which we'll address today, and the other tomorrow.

In years of cruising and talking to cruise employees, specifically captains of the ships, the one subject that brings a sobering almost fearful look to their eyes is "fire." While there's a certain irony that fire is the greatest fear on a ship that's surrounded by water, it is by far the worst thing that can happen at sea, so you would think the people who maintain ships would go to the ends of the earth (or the horizons of the sea) to make sure there would never be a fire on a ship…as much as anybody can ever make sure.

Drew GriffinIn CNN's investigation, reporter Drew Griffin discovered (with the help of a Texas attorney), that the Triumph diesel generator where the fire began last February had been "overdue for maintenance" for more than a year, a fact stated time and again in Carnival's own documents. Also that the ship's technical condition was "out of compliance" with SOLAS standards (the acronym stands for Safety Of Life At Sea).

Fires can be accidents…even when faulty generators or fuel lines (also mentioned in CNN's investigative report) are the cause. In the case of the inappropriately-named "Triumph" it certainly appears that somebody at Carnival — a technician, a mechanic, an inspector, a manager or somebody up the food chain who counts the bean$ — dropped the ball.

Or the fire extinguisher.

Tomorrow: What's in your contract?

Royal Caribbean Brilliance of the Seas
4 nights
February 6, 2014
Tampa (return): Cozumel
Inside: $364
Cost per day: $91

New Evacuation System on Breakaway

Let's start with a couple of acronyms that will help in this story, most of which will be told by pictures:

MES — Marine Evacuation Systems
SOLAS — Safety Of Life At Sea

LSA — Life Saving Appliance

There is a new MES on the market — called the RFD Marin Ark2 — and it will surface (no pun intended) on the Norwegian Breakaway when it arrives in New York three weeks from now. It is capable of evacuating up to 862 passengers in 30 minutes.

Assume that the average cruise ship now carries 3,000 passengers. That means an entire ship can be evacuated in just under two hours.

For us, the logical question is why not four MES units, which would cut the evacuation time to 30 minutes. That's where SOLAS and LSA come into the picture. We're told that SOLAS regulations strictly state that "for a cruise vessel, MES cannot exceed 25% of the primary LSA requirement; 75% of the primary requirement to be satisfied by lifeboats."

So, if a ship is to have two Marin Ark2s, as the Breakaway does, capable of evacuating 1,600 people in 30 minutes, then it must also have enough lifeboats to evacuate 4,800 more people in 30 minutes. In the Breakaway's case, that should be everybody on board, passengers and crew alike.

Safety is always the No. 1 priority on ships. The Marin Ark2 is the only system capable of evacuating that many people that quickly and it is designed to reduce lifeboats needed, not replace them. Maybe in time that will change.

The photos, courtesy of the Marin Ark2 designer's (Survitec Group), show its exterior. The link between this large floating LSA and the ship is two fully-enclosed "slide paths" that allow for "safe, rapid and controlled" descent without being exposed to the elements.

It goes without saying that nobody ever wants to try it out for real. Whether it would have saved more people on the Costa Concordia last year is always going to be debatable, but improved escapes from a ship in trouble are always a step in the right direction.

Diamond Princess
7 nights
June 1, 2013
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $599
Cost per day: $85

Deep Impact of Costa Concordia


The word "terrorism" would never be associated with the Costa Concordia, yet the impact of that disaster on cruising is somewhat similar to what 9/11 did to flying.

Security has been continually accelerated at airports over the last decade, often to the point of annoyance. In cruising, it's just the beginning.

Tomorrow at 8 p.m. (EDT), CNN will broadcast Cruise To Disaster, an investigation of "safety issues in the cruise line industry with a focus on the Concordia." It comes almost seven months after the Concordia joined everyone's vocabulary — had the special been delayed nine days it could have aired on a Friday the 13th, the same day as the accident.

Meanwhile, and presumably this will be part of the show, the cruise industry has continued stepping to attention.
In April, two major cruise line organizations made it policy for all muster drills to be held before departure (600 of Concordia's 3,200 passengers did not attend a drill). Last week, more policy changes. The one that will have the greatest impact on all cruisers is muster drills that will surely be longer and more detailed.

Those of us who cruised before January 13, 2012 have likely all rolled our eyes at yet another muster drill…like the flight attendant's instructions about how to fasten our seat belts. The 15 minutes we are accustomed to spending at a muster station is likely to be extended, perhaps doubled, because of the procedures crew members are now bound to complete.

And, according to CNN, "more changes to safety procedures are expected in the coming months."

Meanwhile, the wrecked ship still lies on its side in Mediterranean waters near Italy. Its 17 fuel tanks have been emptied and it will be floated and towed to Civitavecchia, near Rome, probably about nine months from now. Her ultimate fate is uncertain.

It wasn't terrorism that did this, but it was a night for terror for the people on the Concordia.

Royal Caribbean Vision of the Seas
14 nights
September 21, 2012
Southampton, Gijon, Vigo, Lisbon, Ponta Delgada, Fort Lauderdale
Inside: $885
Cost per day: $63

Cruise Ship Safety Moving to New Level

Again, a sobering moment about cruising. Again, a news item that makes people nervous about going…anywhere. Again, a reminder about the world we live in today.

In case you missed it, police in Germany questioned a 22-year-old Austrian who a year ago this month was returning from Pakistan and discovered — after weeks of breaking codes of digital information he was carrying on him — that one al-Qaeda plot was to attack cruise ships.

As reported on CNN, investigative journalist Yassin Musharbash — a reporter with the German newspaper Die Zeit — was the first to report that one plan was to "hijack a passenger ship and use it to pressurize the public."

The plan would include dressing passengers in orange jump suits, as if they were al-Qaeda prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and then videotape their executions.

If that makes you nervous about cruising, think how the cruise lines feel…and the ship captains. And in case you're inclined to "jump ship" remember that in today's world, it seems you're really not 100% safe anywhere any more.

Carnival Splendor
7 nights
May 27, 2012
Long Beach (return): Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Vallarta
Inside: $619
Cost per day: $88

Cruise Ships and Muster Stations

We’ve almost come to the conclusion that the mandatory muster station drills are in the same boat as the seat-belt drills on airplanes. Nobody’s listening, in part because most of the people have heard it all before, and know — or at least think they know — what to do in an emergency.

The cruise lines say they’re compelled to to this by international law, but nobody’s quite sure what “this” is any more. On our first cruise, some years ago, we all had to take the life jackets from the cabin to the appropriate muster station. Our arrival was noted on a clipboard. How we fastened the jacket was inspected. We took it all seriously.

On Celebrity’s Millennium, no life jackets were necessary. There was just a demonstration, not unlike what flight attendants do.

On Carnival’s Ecstasy, the “muster station” was the theater, the demonstration was held there, then everybody was moved (row by row) outside onto the deck, where we stood for a period of time before being dispersed, without another word being spoken. Meanwhile, we missed the sail-away.

On Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas, crew members started rounding up passengers 15 minutes before the drill, herding everyone to the appropriate muster station. The drill was late, crew members briefly demonstrated how to put on and secure the life jacket, while instructions were read over the intercom that few passengers were paying attention to, and those who were couldn’t hear because of the decibel level of the others. Then, class dismissed.

On Norwegian’s Epic, it was your basic demonstration by a couple of crew members. Ours was held in the casino, just about the last place you should take us to see something that’s supposed to be serious!

On NCL’s Sky, passengers were admonished (yes, us) for clicking cameras while standing near the lifeboats for our muster station drill, which wasn’t really any different from the others. When it was over, we asked why photos weren’t allow. “If photos were allowed, 90 per cent of the people would be taking pictures instead of listening,” he said.

So there would only be 10 per cent of the passengers listening…instead of 20.

While not wanting to take emergency procedures lightly, the conclusion to be drawn here is that the muster-station drills are simply done to make sure the cruise lines are covered. Yes, it’s the law, just like it’s the law for flight attendants.

But if there’s an emergency at sea and somebody doesn’t know what to do, the cruise line is not going to be liable because…

“We did the compulsory muster-station drill.”

Does anybody think we’re wrong?

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