Cruise lines adopt safety measures voluntarily

BART JANSEN
Last updated 11:35 27/03/2014

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After the Costa Concordia ran aground in Italy in January 2012, killing 32 people, the cruise-ship industry adopted 10 safety policies that year that went beyond what governments required, according to the major industry group.

The extra measures included carrying more life jackets than passengers, stowing life jackets where they are easier to find and improving lifeboat training drills.

Budd Darr, senior vice president for technical and regulatory affairs at Cruise Lines International Association, which represents 95 per cent of cruise traffic worldwide, told US safety regulators that the industry couldn't wait for formal government investigations to make changes.

"It's not just a priority," Darr told the National Transportation Safety Board of cruise safety. "It's fundamental to what we do in operating our ships. They must be safe. They must be secure. People know that they have to be able to have a safe and secure vacation experience to relax."

Worldwide, 61 people have died from cruise-ship operations from 2002 through 2012, which includes 27 passengers, Darr said.

His comments came during a two-day NTSB forum on the industry. The board hasn't held a hearing on the industry because incidents typically occur farther than US territory within 19 kilometres of shore. The NTSB also doesn't review health or criminal issues.

But the board, which investigates accidents involving all types of transportation, wanted to review cruise-industry safety because of recent engine-room fires aboard the Carnival Splendor in November 2010 and Carnival Triumph in February 2013, and in the mooring area of Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas in May 2013.

"We are here today to shine a light on the current state of cruise ship safety," NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said in opening the forum.

One hurdle to improving industry safety is that ships are replaced slowly.

The industry has a worldwide fleet of about 350 ships, according to Thomas Weigend, head of sales at Meyer Werft shipbuilder in Germany. But his company, one of five major shipbuilders worldwide, expects only seven or eight new ships to be delivered each year, Weigend said.

A rule for ships built since July 2010 calls for redundant power systems, so that the ship can return to port after an engine fire. The goal is to effectively have cruise ships serve as their own lifeboats because a possible 6,000 passengers and 2,000 crewmembers would overwhelm rescue vessels trying to ferry people to shore.

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The importance of this rule was reinforced by the Triumph fire, nicknamed the "poop cruise" because sanitary conditions deteriorated as the ship was towed to port in Alabama.

But industry officials told the safety board it is unrealistic to install second engine rooms in ships that have one engine.

"That's not a realistic expectation," said Darr of the industry group.

But he said cruise lines are studying ways to cope better with losing their primary power during an emergency and are taking steps individually to improve their own ships.

"We wanted to take action immediately," Darr said.

- MCT

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