Is the Anthem of Seas More Unseaworthy Than It Looks?

Anthem of the Seas StormThe maritime blog gCaptain published an article yesterday, written by Rick Spilman, author of the well written Old Salt blog, entitled Anthem of the Sea - is She  Seaworthy?  The Old Salt blog takes issue with an article I wrote several years ago entitled Are Cruise Ships Dangerously Top Heavy?

In my article I was critical of the cruise industry's trend to build these jam-packed mega cruise ships of today - the 'floating condo" as some call them, which "seem to be out-of-proportionally tall, perched precariously on a hull which seems incapable of safely supporting a structure towering hundreds of feet into the air."  Fours years ago, I said that these monster ships "look like condominiums ripped out of Collins Avenue on Miami Beach and placed on a barge. They look eager to tip over."

I am more convinced today of these observations after the Anthem of the Seas debacle this past week. 

Commenting on the recent fiasco, the Old Salt blog stated that the cruise ship passed the test of encountering a major storm. It said that the cruise ship "survived" what it characterized as a "full-scale blowout trial in highly dangerous conditions." It pointed out that "no one died or was seriously injured" and "the ship made it into port under its own power."

The Old Salt blog scoffed at the notion that the Anthem of the Seas was "unsafe" and concluded that the gigantic cruise ship and others designed like it "are a lot more seaworthy than they look."

But the article was published before the Coast Guard announced that one of the vessel's two azipods Anthem of the Seas Abandon Shipmalfunctioned during the storm and that the Anthem returned to port in New Jersey with only one propulsion unit operating. Late yesterday afternoon, the Coast Guard stated that "during the storm the port azipod, which is one component of the vessel's propulsion system, burned out all four clutches." Royal Caribbean, which initially denied any damage or injury to the ship or the passengers and then claimed that the only damage to the ship was cosmetic, was forced to try and quickly replace the clutches on the storm damaged azipod before the ship's scheduled departure today. The cruise line also decided the starboard azipod 's clutch also needed to be replaced "as a precaution," raising the possibility that it also sustained damage during the storm.

So putting differing opinions aside, the undisputed fact of the matter is that the Anthem of the Seas sustained significant damage to its propulsion system during the storm and returned to port unseaworthy.

The failure of portions of the cruise ship's propulsion system is very troubling  It raises an issue which I discussed in my article four years ago: "ask yourself whether you really want to take your family onto one of these floating sky-scrapper hotels when, God forbid, it loses power while encountering rough seas?"

If the Anthem's propulsion was further disabled during the storm, the cruise ship would be in serious trouble. 

“Major casualties are the result of synergy from multiple causes. If one bad thing happens, you probably get through it,” maritime law litigator and law professor Larry Brennan told the media. “If a ship loses propulsion in a storm, it’s at the mercy of the seas. Instead of cosmetic or structural damage, there’s a much better chance that a ship can be lost.”

Cruise passengers claim that the waves crashed over the top of the lifeboats tethered along the side of the Anthem of the Seas as the ship listed heeled heavily to one side. Even if passengers could have gotten into the lifeboats, this class of Royal Caribbean ships does not have enough lifeboats for both passengers and crew members. The ship is designed such that the crew are forced to use a system of sliding down chutes into life-rafts - a dangerous design even in pleasant weather. Panic may cause the crew members and the passengers to compete to get into the lifeboats which are far safer than the life-rafts. As I explained and illustrated in my article Titanic Redux, there is a danger of the tether ropes breaking, the chutes twisting, or the life-rafts ripping away from the chutes during the type of rough weather which the Anthem faced this week.  

Of course a vessel can be unseaworthy not only when it is designed in an unsafe manner, or it is in state of disrepair, but when the vessel has unsafe procedures. The fact of the matter is that the Anthem of the Seas and other huge cruise ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet do not have a safe means of evacuating passengers and crew members at sea, particularly in dangerous storm conditions.

But most passengers don't seem to be aware of this dangerous practice. The Anthem is claimed to be a technological marvel with all types of bells and whistles to wow the passengers: from being served by a robotic waiter to simulated surfing on the FlowRider to simulated sky diving on the iFly to riding on the North Star. But it has no way to evacuate people safely if disaster strikes, which almost happened last week.

All issues considered, I would say that the Anthem of the Seas is far more unseaworthy than it looks.

Images credit: Weather Nation YouTube - top

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Comments (12) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Lawrence B Brennan - February 13, 2016 12:55 PM

i am misidentified as a coast guard spokesman I spoke with the media as a law professor at Fordham Law School I'm an admiralty and marine insurance litigator in New York and a retired Captain US Navy

LBB

Bill - February 13, 2016 1:25 PM

Why instead of attacking the cruise company don't you direct your concern to the IMO/ DNV etc who set the guidance and check for compliance of these vessels.. for example solas chapter II...

passenger ships do have a high GM (good) but because of there size they still remain tender ships.. if they snap back up it becomes less comfortable for the guests.

pods being direct drive wouldn't require clutches for propulsion but for steering; obviously trying to keep the vessels head into sustained winds such as high as these put extra load on the steering gear, if the crew had of let the vessel have a higher cross track there would of been less load on the gear but a more uncomfortable ride for the guests..

traditional vessels also suffer issues in heavy weather when it comes to there steering gear systems.

i would agree on the front of trying to board a MES in those conditions would of been nigh on impossible. but so would launching any type of survival craft bar maybe a free fall lifeboat.. (tanker type)

Tim - February 13, 2016 2:46 PM

Could loss of one of the Azipod, have contributed to the extreme listing encountered in last week's Storm?

Axel Krack - February 14, 2016 1:18 AM

Bill, Why we attack the cruise companies? Well, that's quite easy - THEY ALWAYS LYING !! Look the statment of the captain - He didn't lost one word of the pod mailfunctions. "We've everything under control.." Like Capt. Schettino from Costa Concordia.... Stop lying !!! Stop sailing with unsafe ships !!

The problem with ships like this is, everything is OK if you sail in normal weather conditions. But, if you enter a major storm, the ship starts to warp, the tension forces are enormously on a ship with this size and lengh. Suddenly a cable breaks and you lost steering and propulsion. Look at the giant box ship grounding at the Elbe river last week, they lost steering, cause a little electronic unit stop working....

The matter of a eventually disaster isn't the type of propulsion, the size of the ships and the lack of rescue equipment is the problem....

And Tim, Yes the lost of one pod could bring ships like this in a very bad situation, if it's happen in a bad moment. Waves are not alway comming from one direction, so that your steering with your ship always against the waves is not possible. Close to the coast you've reflecting waves from the coastlines. They've a diff. frequency and it could be happen, that you've an addition of wavehights - result FREAK WAVE!!! maybe more as 25 m in altitude. Your ship passed the crest of this wave - the bow is in the air - result, it's break the neck of the vessel.

You ever had listen the Roald Emmerich movie - Poseidon desaster..... Have a look.

What can we do ?? Inform prospective clients about the unsafe status of ships like this. So that they stop booking - no bookings - no money - no giant ships anymore...

bill - February 14, 2016 6:25 PM

Axel, one pod malfunctioning isn't the end of the world.. (planes have to be able to land with 1 engine)

It's probably part of the crowd management human behavioural parts of being the master on a passenger ship, tell them there is a slight problem with the vessel and it gets blown out of proportion like is happening here now..

These ships are designed to flex, if the ship was completely rigid it would probably develop cracks rather quickly in the hull; look on youtube at large container vessels and tankers flexing in high seas, its all calculated and regulated, the "tension" forces you are mentioning are normally referred to as bending forces / moments and shear forces, there is a certain criteria that has to be met on these vessels as to loading (mainly the tanks) Before a ship sails; a print out of its stability criteria is signed by the master, filed onboard and a copy is sent shoreside..

the clutches are over-torque protection for the steering motors that rotate the pod. They have nothing to do with the propulsion motor or the pod's ability to provide propulsion. They are there to prevent damage to the electric motors and reduction gears if the vessel touched the bottom.. i'm sure if the use of 2 pods was warranted by the master he would over ride the safety's.

each one of these pods is over 20mw, i know from experience to maintain 10 knots uses about 5-6mw of power on a vessel of this size why would they risk further damage to a pod that wasn't necessary?

in the last few years, one of the oasis class had to be docked for pod issues, as did freedom not so long ago, mariner even sailed for 3 years without one of her pods...

Jimbo - February 15, 2016 8:07 AM

A lot of the points you make are valid: the lifeboats and the evacuation chute are largely useless in weather such as this. However, this is true of any vessel in extreme weather such as that encountered by Anthem of the Seas, it isn't a problem exclusive to cruise lines. There will always be an element of risk associated with going to see in any vessel, but to say that Anthem of the Seas is unseaworthy is a stretch. She handled those conditions extremely well, the fact that she lost one propulsion unit underscores why these ships are built with the redundancy of twin propellers and the fact that only 4 people were injured shows that the situation was handled well by the crew and that the ship's motion wasn't as dramatic as has been claimed (the media love to sensationalise).

As to your last point " The fact of the matter is that the Anthem of the Seas and other huge cruise ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet do not have a safe means of evacuating passengers and crew members at sea, particularly in dangerous storm conditions" - there simply IS NO SAFE WAY to evacuate hundreds let alone thousands of passengers from a cruise ship in a severe storm, so do you feel the entire industry should be shutdown?

Kristoffer - February 16, 2016 12:14 AM

Both of you losers must be from Royal Caribbean HQ, given your ridiculous strawmen. If you think sailing for 3 years without an azipod is safe, google "normalization of deviance". The passengers legitimately feared for their lives. That says it all.

Axel Krack - February 16, 2016 1:40 AM

Well, should we wait until 6.000 persons find their wet grave somewhere at sea?. Lifeboats and handling of such an amount of persons are problems at cruise ships in generally. If they growing - the problems grows also.

And Bill, azipod... oh yes, I know the problems. 2 times I served on ships with pods. 1. MV FRAM 2007 blackout, running in a glacier (Problem electronic unit cut down the pods) 2. MV L'AUSTRAL, lost propulsion and steering during a course change in Antarctica - force 11. And I passed the Drake more as 50 times - one of most dangerous areas in the world. I rocked 20 and more meter waves. I know exactly the tension problem.

Fact is, ships are build to withstand 15 m waves not more - all above - you're at the mercy of the sea. Azipod are smart, normally you doesn't need tug boats. "Old" propulsion, you have the change something in the case off - if you carry spareparts.

And planes can land with one engine, yes in good conditions, but with crosswinds.... Also vessels, yes you can move with one pod, by calm seas - but in a storm like that....

AND YES, if it is necessary to shut down the whole industy - why not, SAFETY FIRST - If you're not safe....? Have a look to Costa Concordia, (OK there was no storm..)

Fact is, on ships and planes, pax doesn't take care of the drill and instructions - but in the case of.... if you hear the general alarm... your heartbeat is rising

Frranciscus - February 17, 2016 5:28 AM

@axel.

Although a fervent cruiser I cannot comment on the safety of using only one azipod. It would be an emotional reply. However, being a retired airline pilot, I can say that every two engined airplane can and will fly on one engine. For landing in such a configuration the crosswind limit is the same as for having both engines. On older model jets it would not be allowed , but possible, to land in fog. In other words, weather is not a factor.

@everybody. The anthem left port with two servicable pods. That means that the only possible criticism is the decision to sail through the storm. Given the outcome, I would say the ship performed well and would it not have been such a big ship, I would happily sail with her, even in a storm. This offcourse is my very subjective opinion.

francois clermont - February 17, 2016 9:56 AM

cruise ship industries rely on gouv. deregulation to amputate Coast Guard from having real inspection , what will happens if both propulsion azipod fail in a storm what will be the time before ship came to sideways the waves and pushed by the winds , up to now they were lucky to had ship with no power dead on sea in calm water , someday it will be in a storm , there are no reason at all cruise ship with 6 generators loose power !!!

Larry - March 2, 2016 12:47 AM

How much did the ship list during the storm?
What is the maximum it can stand before capsizing?

Brian Macnamara - January 10, 2017 1:30 PM

We were on the Anthem on its 1st Transatlantic visit to New York in Nov. 2015.We also came through a major storm,major injuries and power cuts,only time I ever thought we were not going to make the trip. At one of the formal nights I asked one of the Engineers if there was problems with the stabalisers but of course he couldnt comment.We love Royal Caribbean but wont go back on Anthem or similar ship.

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