Cruise ships like Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas have different emergency evacuation systems for the passengers and the crew. Passengers are loaded onto lifeboats at their muster stations on the port and starboard sides of the ship and then lowered into the water. The lifeboat is motored away from the burning or sinking ship by a crew member.
Crew members, on the other hand, are required to use life-rafts which are jettisoned into the sea from large canisters primarily located at the stern of the ship.
You can see right canisters in the image above and sixteen canisters located at the stern of the Grandeur in the video below (credit: solandtravel / YouTube) which was sent to my attention this morning by cruise expert Professor Ross Klein.
These canisters, and the evacuation chutes and life-rafts therein, appear to have been destroyed or partially burned during in the two hour fire early Monday morning (see photo below right, via WTSP.com). It is my understanding that the life-rafts have a capacity of around 25 persons each. So assuming these 16 canisters were all that were destroyed in the fire, life-rafts for around 400 crew members - about 50% of the crew - may have been burned up.
There are some "extra" canisters on the cruise ship, but not nearly enough to accommodate all of the crew.
If the fire on the Grandeur had not been extinguished, the passengers would have been safely evacuated in the lifeboats which had already been lowered to deck level and were awaiting loading upon order of the ship's Master. But a few hundred crew members may have found themselves faced with jumping into the water.
Considering that a nearby Carnival cruise ship was on standby, and Coast Guard vessels were enroute, the crew members without a life-raft may have been transferred to other vessels in this particular case. But a fire like this which is not contained, and which occurs further at sea and in rougher weather, may pose serious consequences to the crew's safety.
Following the Costa Concordia disaster last year, the Cruise Line International Organization (CLIA) announced 10 new safety proposals that all of the cruise lines were suppose to follow.
One proposal was that cruise lines would no longer load crew members in the lifeboats during safety drills. Instead, cruise lines were suppose to lower the lifeboats into the water first, load the crew members in next, and then practice motoring the lifeboat around. The proposal envisions only a few crew aboard during the lowering of the lifeboat, and they must be essential to the operation.
Today we learn that at least 8 crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship, apparently in violation of the new CLIA safety proposal, when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew are dead. 3 are injured.
The cruise ship was docked at the pier of Santa Cruz port in La Palma, in the Canary Islands. Thomson Cruises is owned by the large German travel company TUI. The cruise ship is operated by Louis Cruises.
A local newspaper says that the nationality of the dead victims are three Indonesians, a Ghanian and a Filipino. The injured involve two Greek crew members in serious condition and a Filipino in what is being described as in less serious condition.
There is a saying that most lifeboats drills injure or kill more crew than save lives. Lifeboats can fall suddenly due to operator error or suffer malfunctions of the moving parts or failure of the cables and hardware. The accident appears to have happened while the lifeboat was being raised. No one needs to be aboard the lifeboat when it is raised. A cable snapped on one side. A photograph on our Facebook page shows a frayed cable.
You can see a dramatic lifeboat accident in a video here. Although it did not involve a cruise ship, you can see how things can go terribly wrong.
It's a shame that the lifeboat had crew members aboard while it was being lowered and raised in violation of the CLIA safety proposals. Why have 8 crewmembers in the boat while it is being raised anyway? The safety proposals are just that - proposals. It seems that at the end of the day, the cruise lines do whatever they want to do.
"Alan Graveson, Senior International Secretary of Nautilus the U.K.-based seafarers' union, said: "I issued instructions seven years ago that preferably nobody should be in the lifeboat during a safety drill, and if that's not possible then there should be a maximum of two people.
"Lifeboats are meant to go one way -- and that's down -- I don't know why there were eight people onboard when they were winching it back up."
Photo credit: AP via Huffington Post. Video credit: BBC News.
The cruise industry trade organization, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), announced with great fanfare a new lifeboat training policy. This is a result of what CLIA is calling the cruise industry's "operational safety review" after the Costa Concordia disaster.
Every six months, the CLIA cruise ships will conduct lifeboat drills. The lifeboats will be lowered into the water either empty or with only a skeleton crew (probably one or two crew members) necessary to operate the life boat.
The lifeboat itself will otherwise be empty. As USA TODAY explains:
"The training will involve lowering a lifeboat into the water, filling it to capacity with crew members and then maneuvering it in the water to familiarize the crew to lifeboat operations. The crew will not practice lowering a fully loaded lifeboat."
The new policy is suppose ensure the public that the crew knows how to safely lower the lifeboats. But let's be clear what this "new" policy is and is not about.
It is only after the lifeboat is lowered will it then be filled up with crew members (this is actually the same IMO policy which has existed for the past 4 years). The lifeboat operator will then practice driving the loaded boat around for a while. The crew will eventually get out. Then the lifeboat will be raised back to the cruise ship empty.
This means that there will be no training whatsoever in loading and then lowering a fully loaded lifeboat safely into the water. So when the next disaster strikes, that means that there is a 100% certainty that whoever is lowering your life boat has never practiced it while it is loaded.
It is hard to understand why the emphasis in the "new policy" is practicing driving the lifeboats around. Watch the Royal Caribbean video below of life boats from the Serenade of the Seas driving around and around. The video has wonderful music. Its a beautiful day in Pointe Seraphine, Castries, St. Lucia. The water is completely calm. What fun!
You will never see a real emergency in pleasant conditions like this. The last person overboard from the Serenade of the Seas occurred last week (largely ignored by the U.S. press and Royal Caribbean is staying mum). A crew member went overboard in the Adriatic early in the morning in high seas with winds gusting up to 100 kilometers. The ship didn't even try and lower a lifeboat in those conditions.
The problem with the Costa Concordia disaster was that the captain delayed ordering the passengers off the ship until the cruise ship listed to an angle where it was impossible to lower the lifeboat. There was chaos trying to round up and organize over 3,000 passenger into their designated muster stations, especially because there was no muster drill in the first place.
The "new" CLIA lifeboat drills don't mention crowd control issues, language issues or anything that might reasonably address the deadly confusion which took place on the Concordia.
There are no recommendations for simulation drills or intense training, while encountering a wide variety of emergencies and diverse simulated weather conditions.
Think if a cruise ship as large as the Oasis or Allure of the Seas needs to be evacuated, The Oasis has 18 lifeboats which can carry 370 passengers in each one. Getting that many people into the lifeboat in a timely manner and then lowering the boat safely into the water takes practice - something the "new" CLIA policy guarantees won't ever happen.
The truth of the matter is that some cruise lines have essentially discontinued lifeboats drills (actually lowering the lifeboats) because of the numerous injuries and some deaths during the drills. 10 years ago Royal Caribbean experienced a disastrous accident where numerous crew members sustained serious injuries.
There is a saying that most lifeboats injure or kill more passengers and crew than save lives. Lifeboats can fall suddenly, get caught on the side of the ship or suffer malfunctions or failure of the cables and hardware. Consider the incident in the video at the bottom which, although not involving a cruise ship, is similar to others incidents where cruse employees were injured.
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
The hiring of a lawyer is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertisements. Before you make this important decision, ask us to send you written information about our qualifications and experience.