When the executives at Royal Caribbean trotted out the Oasis of the Seas several years ago, they took special efforts to tout that the evacuation and life saving systems on this huge ship were the best in the world. After all, this was the largest, most technologically advanced, and most expensive cruise ship in the world.
Cruise CEO and President Adam Goldstein characterized the evacuation system for passengers as a "holistic" approach to saving lives. You can read about the "holistic" design here on an official Royal Caribbean press statement.
Royal Caribbean produced carefully crafted videos showing that its "revolutionary" huge state-of-the-art 370 person capacity life boats would safely rescue the passengers if anything wrong happened on the high seas requiring an evacuation.
You can see the video below with William Wright, who captained the Oasis from Europe to Fort Lauderdale, promoting the life boats as marvels of the sea. The video says that the new life boats have double redundancy: double engines, double propellers, and double rudders, in addition to well-lighted and spacious boats, which according to Royal Caribbean would ensure that the 16 crew members assigned to each life boat could comfortably ferry the 354 passengers to safety.
You could almost hear the thoughts of the cruise executives: we have to assure our customers that this money-making-beast-of-a-ship can safely evacuate 8,500 passengers and crew who are jam-packed together in this highly compressed space. As a result, the public was presented with the nonsensical "holistic" message from CEO Goldstein and the slick video production starring captain Wright (since unceremoniously fired from the company) stating that the passengers are even safer in the life boats!
Many maritime experts believe that the size of the new huge cruise ships make it harder to evacuate quickly and safely. Cruise lines are required to evacuate all passengers and crew in just 30 minutes, which seems like a tall order considering that there could be as many as 8,500 passengers and crew aboard these ships. But CEO Richard Fain promoted his giant ships by claiming that evacuation is in fact faster on larger ships because "they have more entrances and exits." He went as far as to claim that passengers are actually safer in gigantic cruise ships.
But what Royal Caribbean was not telling the public was that the life boats were severely limited in number and were only for the passengers. Crew members have to jump down a 60' chute into a flimsy life raft - not a life boat.
The chutes and rafts are contained in canisters located on the ship which deploy and drop down into the water. I last mentioned these type of canisters following the fire aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas last May which burned many of the canisters located on the stern of the cruise ship.
Take a look at the bottom video which shows a Royal Caribbean crew member who gets stuck in the chute and then flies out and lands violently on his back. We've also written about an incident where 20 crew members were injured in a drill using a similar chute and raft system.
Recently, the issue arose whether there are an adequate number of lifeboats on the Allure and the Oasis, after the Allure left one of its lifeboats behind in Nassau because of a problem with a cable.
There are only 18 lifeboats to begin with on these ships. Each life boat has a capacity of 370 people, divided into 354 passengers and 16 crew members who are responsible for overseeing the passengers and maneuvering the life boat. With only 17 life boats, there is room for only 6,018 passengers; whereas, the Allure has a capacity of 6,296.
The passengers who are not permitted into a life boat will be forced to use something Royal Caribbean and its executives never touted as either revolutionary or "holistic" - the dangerous chute and raft system used by crew members.
When we broke this story, there was a blow back by the cruise line and many crew members. Royal Caribbean claimed that "we had enough safety crafts for everyone onboard the ship . . . Our ships carry extra lifesaving vessels at all times." Unfortunately, the cruise line use of the words life "crafts" and "vessels" did not distinguish whether it has enough newly designed life "boats" for the passengers versus the dangerous old-school life "rafts" used by the crew.
"Stop nitpicking and creating a controversy!" seemed to be the sentiment by the cruise line and most crew members. These supporters of Royal Caribbean pointed out that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires the ship to have 25% extra life craft capacity for the maximum capacity of the passengers and crew and there's no evidence that the Allure was in violation of that when it sailed.
My response is that the IMO requirements are a minimum. More importantly, what about the executives' promises of the revolutionary and holistic approach to saving human souls? Are grandmothers and children and mothers with babies going to have to jump into the chutes into a lifeboat from deck four, commando style?
It seems so, and the cruise executives know it. Take a look at the evacuation procedure diagrams on the Oasis. The schematics of the chute system depict passengers with children and mothers clinging onto their infants descending the chutes. These images are directly from Royal Caribbean's cruise ships.
The last comment posted to my article said:
"Stop nitpicking, whether it's a craft, raft, or boat as long as there is something in case of an emergency i don't think most people would care. These rafts are the same one the US Navy uses, if it's safe for our troops it's safe for me."
When people leave comments on my blog like this, they automatically leave their internet provider (IP) address. The IP address of this person indicated that the person sent the message from Royal Caribbean's corporate headquarters here in Miami. Whether this macho man was a frustrated low level employee or someone in the operations or safety departments, I'll never know. But someone over at the cruise line thinks that it's okay (and a darn patriotic thing to do!) for passengers to jump down a 60 foot chute acting like Rambo.
I doubt that 75 year old grandmothers or little grand kids realize that they are signing up for this tour of duty when they embark on a luxury cruise of the Caribbean aboard the Allure or the Oasis.
Perhaps the cruise line is right that it is in technical compliance with the minimal IMO requirements. But the cruise line should be transparent with its guests. It should tell its passengers that instead of a "holistic" rescue in "revolutionary" life boats, they should be prepared to act like a Navy Seal jumping into a raft in a combat zone.