Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hazards of Cruising

In light of recent cruise ship calamities, its probably forefront on the minds of many potential travelers - is cruising dangerous?

To get an answer from one who sells cruises, you would expect the answer to be - No Problem, now lets book!

There needs to be more transparency from a reputable travel agency, and East-West Global Travel will lead forward in this endeavour.

Shipbuilders today, are the finest in the world, and have an amazing capacity of maximizing displacement, load capacity, minimizing sail area and draft, and efficient design of shipboard resources.

Still, travel aboard a metal ship, in water, inherently has its hazards. The  metal conducts heat, which is  a problem not only during a fire emergency, but as passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph discovered, which makes tropical living conditions unbearable from the ship sitting in the sun all day with no method to mitigate that heat.

With no power, the ability of the ship to capitalize on its design, becomes useless. The ship can no longer pump water in tanks to stabilize the ship, and limit listing (tipping on its side) fight other fires, or provide power to run bow propellers and stabilizers.

Cruise ships (and most vessels) are highly dependent on electrical power, without which its difficult to maintain proper temperatures in its food service equipment, and on some ships, even cook. Without redundant power, navigation and communication systems on the bridge can quickly be unusable.

As is also evidenced in the latest event, loss of power can also cease use of plumbing, a critical function when you have 3000+ passengers on board!

Fortunately, the Carnival Triumph did not experience serious weather, another fire, or risk of capsizing, and despite some media making this to be the worst catastrophe since the Titanic, the Carnival Triumph mishap is more hype that than serious danger to the passenger.

Yet, with all the current hype, there are risks that must be considered, that often are not known the the usual traveler. A good review of the risks have been enumerated by James Walker, an expert in Maritime issues, who wrote an Op-Ed on the CNN Website, titled "What Cruise Lines don't want you to Know."

As a young man, sailing with the Merchant Marines, I took the time each evening to visit the Radio Officers room, and copy morse code transmission from the Guam Station. This communication would provide updates to ships in the area about maritime risks, and weather concerns. One item I found interesting, was that EVERY DAY, there was at least one ship in sinking distress. Its the code on the seas that other ships in relative proximity, or headed that direction along the shipping lane, provide aid.  I served on my ship for 5 months, so approximately 150 ships were sinking during my tour of duty. Combine that with being aboard a Liquid Natural Gas Tanker, the regular pirate concerns while traveling the Straits of Malacca, and sailing the seas did seem to be treacherous!

Now, of the sinking vessels, not many of these ships were passenger ships, but they were all foreign flag ships. (Registered under the flag of a country other than the United States) The standards for ships sailing under a U.S. flag are very high. Other countries have limited standards, and are slow to enforce the standards they do exist. The should make passengers on Cruise Ships take notice as nearly all cruise ships in the world are flying under a foreign flag! They can effectively be sailing using sub-par standards than one would expect from a U.S. Vessel. For comparison, consider the motorcoaches in the U.S. vs what you can find in other countries: some are as good or better, but many pale in comparison. In fact, the only Deep Sea Cruise ship I know registered under the U.S. is the NCL Pride of America

As a traveler, you can ask your travel agent what flag your potential cruise is registered, and what to expect for safety on that cruise line. You can also check the U.S. Maritime Administration website for US Flagged vessels.

There are concerns about life on the sea. A disabled ship, not able to provide propulsion, or even water pressure for firefighting and plumbing is serious. Some cruise lines have built-in redundant power sources, and mobile generators; something that seems clear Carnival may be missing.

I believe more can be done. the life-rafts aboard a U.S. ship seem to have more for passenger comfort and safety than what Carnival could provide for its customers.

A ship that size should have the capacity for integrated shelters on deck. Just as valuable would be gravity fed plumbing, that could utilize water pumped (manually if needed) from the pools, and later directly from the ocean. This would make the plumbing non-potable, but prevent the decks from becoming a flowing bio-hazard.

Tankers have utilized large kites to reduce fuel costs and aid in propulsion. Availability of such apparatus may have value for ships in the same predicament as the Triumph.

There are probably many other safety issues that will come to light, as the safety of cruise lines is discussed among media and bloggers. With all the discussion, its worthwhile noting that while incidents actually happen quite frequently on cruises, largely they are mitigated without the passenger being inconvenienced or even made aware. Cruise companies are in the business of keeping their ships full of happy passengers, and thrive with repeat business. They cannot sustain their business if the ship and product is not up to the expectation of the customer.

While every savvy traveler should be aware of the potential discomforts, and even worst case scenarios while cruising, its good to know that 100's of 1000's of travelers sail annually without great inconvenience. In fact, they are more likely to get all the irritating discomforts on the flights to/from port, then they ever will as part of the cruise.

If you have questions about whether you should cruise, or if it is safe, please ask an agent at          East-West Global Travel. We can have a frank, transparent discussion about cruising safety, and then help you make a great choice among the many cruise lines.

Happy Cruising!

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