|Photo by Susan J. Young|
Are large mega-ships with huge numbers of passengers less safe than smaller vessels?
“No” said several maritime and cruise ship safety experts participating in a global cruise industry media briefing at the Millenium Gloucester Hotel in London today.
“I don’t think it matters what the size is,” said Tom Allan, naval architect and chairman of the Cruise Ship Safety Forum, in disputing a reporter’s question about whether a bigger ship is less safe than a small one.
“One isn’t more unsafe than the other,” Allan emphasized. He said big ships can actually provide more flexibility and a better platform to organize evacuations than smaller vessels.
Stability standards for big and small ships are essentially the same, Allan told reporters. And he said, both big ships and small ships have their own challenges and opportunities in regards to emergency evacuations.
Captain William Wright, a cruise industry maritime expert who has served in many positions with Royal Caribbean International, including senior vice president of marine operations and, most recently, as captain of the Oasis of the Seas, concurred with Allan’s assessment.
He noted that larger ships have everything that smaller ships do except on a larger scale; that includes more lifeboats, larger lifeboats and more evacuation routes.
Sir Alan Massey, chief executive of the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency, also emphasized to reporters that he’s satisfied that safety standards have kept pace with the development of larger vessels.
The experts, including Richard Evenhand, manager of V.Ships Leisure UK Ltd., the world’s largest third party ship manager, were speaking at a briefing organized by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the European Cruise Council (ECC) and the Passenger Shipping Association (PSA).
“I speak on behalf of the entire cruise line industry when I express my heartfelt condolences to all those affected by the terrible tragedy of the Costa Concordia,” said Christine Duffy, CLIA’s president and CEO, who moderated the 40-minute, question-and-answer program with journalists.
Duffy said teams of experts are working hard at the site while formal investigations by the Italian authorities are ongoing. She also paid tribute to those who worked tirelessly to evacuate the ship and care for the injured.
“Understandably, today’s press conference is not about speculating on the cause of this awful event,” Duffy stressed.
However, she said, “we know that people have questions about how our industry is regulated, and there has been considerable demand for information of a technical nature.”
“Safety is the cruise industry’s number one priority,” Duffy stated. "Cruise liners are per passenger one of the safest forms of recreation, and maritime incidents are incredibly rare.”
She said all cruise ships must be designed, built, operated and maintained to meet requirements of international law.
Duffy also emphasized that the cruise industry is heavily regulated in compliance with the strict standards of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency that mandates global standards for seagoing vessels.
CLIA, a non-government entity, has a seat at the IMO (www.imo.org) on behalf of its members. “The industry works constantly with IMO, other maritime authorities and classification society to implement stringent safety standards and will continue to do so,” said Duffy.
Duffy said the industry is calling on the IMO to undertake a comprehensive evaluation from the findings of the Costa Concordia investigation [when that work is completed] “so that the cruise industry remains one of the very safest recreational industries globally.”
While telling reporters that “there is a very great deal still not known about the accident,” Duffy stressed that “all of our members recognize the seriousness of these events and want to assure that we apply the lessons learned from this tragic event.”
One journalist asked about the timing for the passenger safety drill and whether all ships should be required to hold such drills prior to sailing? Some Costa Concordia passengers said they did not have a lifeboat drill upon their departure and that it was scheduled for the following day.
International law requires a lifeboat drill to be conducted within 24 hours of sailing. But, “it’s clear that in the vast, vast majority of departures the passenger safety drill or muster occurs prior to the ship letting go lines and leaving the dock,” said Captain Wright.
He acknowledged that there are some examples in the industry of the drill not being done before sailing, such as the timing of certain departures.
“Undoubtedly I think that’s a practice that will come under some scrutiny in the weeks and months to come,” said Wright, who again stressed that most cruise ships organize the drill before the ship sails.
What can be done to assure that lifeboats work better in an emergency? Allan said the current requirement for lifeboats is that they must be capable of being launched even if the ship is listing up to 20 degrees.
All lifeboats and life rafts are approved and tested to that requirement, he said. “If it gets more than 20 degrees, I would suggest that a lot of lifeboats still could be launched,” he said, “but after that the [captain] must decide if it’s safe.”
Other issues discussed included training of bridge officers, with Captain Wright explaining that bridge resource management, which is an offshoot from the aviation industry's cockpit resource management, mandates certain actions by more than one leader. It's more team focused.
This concept addresses the “human factors” element that can play into any emergency situation. With bridge resource management, Wright said the captain is not only following the voyage plan, but that when a command decision is made, another senior member of the bridge team must verify the action.
There was no discussion about whether such a protocol was in place onboard Costa Concordia.
Reporters and the experts also talked about the positioning of life jackets, their availability and how to assure guests get them in the easiest fashion.
Captain Wright talked about weekly crew safety drills and how lines try to create highly realistic emergency conditions during those drills. He also said there are specific emergency responsibilities for each and every crew member.
An Associated Press reporter asked whether the notion that the captain should go down with the ship is perhaps an outdated one, given the size of the ships today and the types of rescue operations possible.
“There is no basis in international law for the notion that the captain is to go down with his ship, or even that [the captain] is the last to leave the ship,” said Massey. “Indeed in many cases, it may not be the most appropriate step to take.”
Individual companies might have their own policies on that, which is fine, he said. But from Massey's regulatory perspective, the “going down with the ship” view is more myth than reality.
Captain Wright had a bit different response: “I think it goes without saying, being a captain myself and knowing my colleagues…," said Captain Wright, that [going down with the ship or being the last to leave] is “an unwritten rule or law of the sea, and I find it hard to understand circumstances..." under which a captain would leave prior to passenger evacuation.
However, he then paused and said not all circumstances are known about the Costa Concordia accident.
In the last question of the day, Jane Archer, one of the U.K’s most well-known cruise journalists, noted that the experts had talked about the importance of the IMO to review and evaluate any findings from the investigation, but that the IMO process might take a long time.
She asked if anything was being done to move more quickly to address the issues? Experts said the IMO process is just one step and that cruise lines likely will be reviewing their own procedures and taking appropriate steps if changes are required in the interim.