A lifeboat accident occurred this afternoon while the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas was in the port of Charleston.
A passenger aboard the cruise ship (who wishes to remain anonymous) informed me that a lifeboat had fallen from the cruise ship and was upside down in the water. He sent photographs of the lifeboat taken by other passengers. One photograph shows a cable which is are obviously frayed (bottom photo) and suggests that the cables may have broken and dropped the lifeboat into the water.
This raises obvious concerns that the other cables to the remaining lifeboats may be in a state of disrepair. These lifeboats carry as many as 150 guests.
It is currently unknown whether the accident occurred during a lifeboat drill or whether there were crew members in the lifeboat when it fell.
A newspaper in Charleston says that a "life raft" fell off the cruise ship, but this appears to clearly be an error. The photo above of the lifeboat upside down in the water which was sent to me can be compared to an online photo of a Grandeur lifeboat on davits (below); the metal rails on the side in both photos can be readily observed.
The newspaper reports that the U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said "staff from the ship are attempting to retrieve the life raft and a team from the Coast Guard will assess any potential pollution impacts."
There are no reports at this time whether there are any crew member injuries at this time. The newspaper says that "there was no one was on the raft."
This is not the first lifeboat accident on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship. In September, two crew members were killed and other crew members were critically injured after a lifeboat fell from the Harmony of the Seas, which was docked in Marseilles, France. Five members of the ship's navigation crew were on board during a drill when the lifeboat became detached and fell ten meters into the water.
I boarded the Grandeur of the Seas last month with a maritime expert to inspect the lifeboats in a case where a crew member was seriously injured. One observation I left with was that this twenty-year old ship is a victim of deferred maintenance. You can see very heavy rust in the metal throughout the ship, particularly around the windows. Some of the rust is so serious that the windows near the upper, starboard side near the stern have been replaced with temporary covers. (See photo at bottom). Earlier this year, another 20 year-old Royal Caribbean ship in the same Vision class, the Rhapsody of the Seas, suffered five windows on deck three breaking, injuring cruise passengers and partially flooding the cabins on decks two and three when the ship encountered rough weather. You can see the rusted windows here and on our Facebook page.
January 17, 2017 Update: The Grandeur of the Seas arrives today at the port of Miami, without a lifeboat. The Grandeur apparently left the fallen lifeboat in Charleston. Has the Coast Guard inspected the other lifeboats? Photo (above) via @PTZtv.behind
Newspapers in France are reporting that one crew member has been killed and four other crew members were injured after a lifeboat fell from the Harmony of the Seas, which was docked in Marseilles, France.
According to 20 Minutes newspaper, five members of the ship's navigation crew were on board during a drill when the lifeboat became detached and fell ten meters into the water. The newspaper reports that two of the crew members injured are in critical condition. The deceased crew members is reportedly a Filipino citizen.
Eight crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill in 2013 on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew were killed and 3 were injured.
In July of this year, a rescue boat drill resulted in the boat falling into the water with four crew members from the Norwegian Breakaway while the cruise ship was in Bermuda. Two crew members were killed and two other seriously injured.
Between these two events, there have been several other lifeboat mishaps. In January of this year, a cruise ship tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned, during a scheduled boat training drill while the cruise ship was docked in Funchal, Madeira. Fortunately, no one was injured. In August 2015, an excursion boat from the Costa Mediterranea apparently broke a cable while it was being lowered in Montenegro. Photographs sent to me shows what appears to be a lifeboat dangling on the side of the Costa cruise ship. In October 2014, a rescue boat on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped and a crew member was killed.
It is currently unknown whether a cable broke or whether the lowering mechanism malfunctioned or was performed incorrectly.
Several years ago, Cruise Critic published an article: Lifeboat Tragedy: Did Cruise Line Ignore Safety Guidelines? It quotes an expert on lifeboat drills: "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. We also contacted Captain Ben Lyons, who has sailed as an officer on both larger mega-ships and smaller expedition ships, to get an insider's perspective on the incident. "Lifeboat drills are almost invariably considered one of the most dangerous parts of life at sea for a cruise," he told us in an e-mail. "There is a strong sentiment amongst many seafarers that lifeboats (through drills) have killed and injured many more people than they have saved."
CLIA has removed the language of the policy from its website, but you can review a cached version here ("Under this policy, for safety considerations, the loading of lifeboats for training purposes is to be performed only while the boat is waterborne and the boat should be lowered and raised with only the lifeboat crew onboard.")
A number of newspapers in Bermuda are reporting that four people were injured when a lifeboat fell from the Norwegian Breakaway while the cruise ship was docked at port today.
The Royal Gazette says that one of the crew members is in critical condition at the hospital. This newspaper reports that a lifeboat had fallen from the cruise ship and "was left hanging from one wire resulting in four people falling into the water."
Bernews reports that NCL released a statement, saying that "on July 20 while Norwegian Breakaway was alongside in Bermuda, an incident occurred involving the ship’s rescue boat during a routine drill, affecting four crew members."
Bernews clarifies that a "rescue boat," as opposed to a lifeboat, was involved in the mishap. A video shows what this newspaper says is a rescue boat flipped upside down in the water with its hull partially showing.
Lifeboats accidents are not uncommon. In January of this year, a cruise ship tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned, during a scheduled boat training drill while the cruise ship was docked in Funchal, Madeira. Fortunately, no one was injured. In August 2015, an excursion boat from the Costa Mediterranea apparently broke a cable while it was being lowered in Montenegro. Photographs sent to me shows what appears to be a lifeboat dangling on the side of the Costa cruise ship. In October 2014, a rescue boat on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped and a crew member was killed. In February 2013, 8 crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water when it was being lifted in violation of a new CLIA safety protocol. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew were killed. 3 were injured. It was caused by a broken cable (photograph here).
Update: One crew member injured in the accident has reportedly died, according to NCL.
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 malfunctioned 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.
Cruise Hive reports that a cruise ship tender boat on the Balmoral operated by Fred Olsen Lines malfunctioned a week ago, on Sunday, January 10, 2016, during a scheduled boat training drill.
At the time of the accident the cruise ship was docked in Funchal, Madeira.
The cruise line told Cruise Hive that “this incident occurred as a result of the ship’s winches lowering the tender boat at different speeds.”
Fred Olsen also said that the winches allegedly were independently surveyed in December 2015 for Flag compliance and no issues were found at the time.
Fred Olsen flags the 28 year old ship in Nassau Bahamas.
The mishap reportedly did not cause any personal injuries to the crew members.
Lifeboat or tender/rescue boat safety drills are highly dangerous. In August 2015, while an excursion boat from the Costa Mediterranea was being lowered, a cable broke. In July 2016, during a drill involving a rescue boat on the NCL's Pride of America, two crew members were seriously injured when the boat fell from deck 6. In October 2014, a rescue boat on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped and a crew member was killed. In February 2013, 8 crew members were in a lifeboat during a drill on the Thomson Majesty cruise ship when the lifeboat plunged 60 feet into the water when it was being lifted in violation of a new CLIA safety protocol. The lifeboat landed upside down. 5 of the crew were killed. 3 were injured.
Two nights ago, the Thomson Dream stopped when the crew noticed an abandoned life raft. The cruise ship was sailing from Sardinia towards Naples.
The ship stopped for around 40 mins. The crew pulled the life raft to the shell doors and then went aboard to inspect it. The life raft was brand new and undamaged. It was too big to take onboard. It had a capacity of 100 plus. It had no IMO number or other identification markings.
The captain decided to cut the life raft free and notified the Italian coast guard.
Several passengers on the ship have asked me for an explanation. I would think in most cases that an abandoned life raft probably broke free from the ship. But the lack of identification on the life raft is confusing.
Anyone else run across this life raft during a cruise? Does anyone have a reasonable explanation?
KHON 2 reports that two Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) crew members were injured and hospitalized yesterday in an accident on the Pride of America.
The accident occurred when the NCL cruise ship was docked in Hilo.
The crew members, in their 30s, were reportedly lowering a lifeboat from the cruise ship when the cables broke. The video below says that the men ended up falling into the lifeboat which fell into the water.
July 30 2015 Update: A crew member contacted us and said that "they were raising one of the rescue boats after doing some routine maintenance on the boat. it was not a life boat. As the boat was going up it somehow detached and fell from deck 6 to the water(4 deck fall)."
The Miami Herald's article today (by Hannah Sampson) regarding what is described as the "behemoths at sea" raises a basic question - how can you safely evacuate 5,000 passengers and 2,000 crew members from one of these "super-size" cruise ships?
The answer is simple, you can't.
Maritime regulations require the task to be completed in just 30 minutes. Several retired Coast Guard officials (who didn't sell out and join the cruise industry) tell me that there is no way that a cruise ship like Royal Caribbean's Oasis, Allure or the to-be-built Harmony can accomplish this feat.
It doesn't seem like the cruise lines have much confidence that they can either. Quite frankly, they don't seem to think that they have an obligation to do so. Ms. Hannah interviewed a dozen cruise executives and managers, including Carnival chief maritime officer William Burke who said "big ships are inherently more safe than the smaller ships . . . and so as a result, there is less likelihood of ever needing a lifeboat.”
Royal Caribbean’s global chief communications officer Rob Zeiger echoed this we-really-don't-need-a-lifeboat sentiment telling Ms. Sampson: “These things are designed now on the theory that the ship is its own best safety vessel. It’s as much about designing them to remain stable and in motion as anything else.”
Of course this is same mentality that doomed a thousand souls on the deck of the sinking cruise liner Titanic over a hundred years ago.
Two years ago, I pointed out in Titanic Redux that the Allure and the Oasis were designed not to have enough lifeboats for all of the crew and passengers. The crew, and maybe some passengers, will have to jump down a chute into a raft. It's a dangerous procedure even if the weather is perfect and the ship is in port. But if the giant ship is engulfed in flames, experiencing storm conditions or heavy seas, or is far from port, the outcome will become a disaster.
Ms. Sampson interviewed one voice of reason in her article, Captain Bill Doherty (former safety manager for NCL), a director with Nexus Consulting Group. Captain Doherty said “You’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to physically assess your worst-case scenarios. Real time, real people, real hardware drills that clearly identify where the holes are."
The reality is that the cruise lines, which are in competition to build bigger and bigger ships, are not conducting such real life, worst-case-scenario drills. It's disturbing to hear Carnival and Royal Caribbean cavalierly tell Ms. Hannah that lifeboats may not really be needed after all.
I hate to think what the guests and crew will be thinking when they hear the captain announce "abandon ship" from one of these gigantic monsters floundering in the middle of the Atlantic.
On Friday October 24, 2014, a "rescue boat" on the Coral Princess was being raised on davits with two crew members aboard when a cable snapped. The vessel fell into the water. One crew member identified as Husnan Fauzan sustained mortal injuries and died. The second crew member identified as Steven Bagshaw sustained injuries and was treated in the hospital.
The fatal accident occurred in Colon, Panama.
Princess Cruises released this statement on Facebook:
"It is with deep sadness that I must share the news that our colleague Husnan Fauzan has passed away from injuries he sustained in the tragic accident on Coral Princess yesterday. Husnan, who served as SGP1, joined Princess in 2004.
Husnan, along with Bosun Steven Bagshaw, were onboard a rescue boat that was in the process of being hoisted when it fell back into the water. Both men were taken to the hospital for treatment, but unfortunately, Husnan did not survive. Steven is currently still in the hospital in stable condition."
We also received this statement from Princess:
"On October 24 two of our crew members were in one of the ship’s rescue boats doing some maintenance work on the hull of Coral Princess. When the boat was being raised back onboard the ship, one of the cables that raises and lowers the boat parted, and the boat dropped back into the water with our two crew members inside.
We immediately responded and discovered that these crew members had, unfortunately, sustained injuries which necessitated their transfer to a shoreside hospital for evaluation and treatment.
It is with an extremely heavy heart that we confirm that one of the crew members subsequently passed away from his injuries. This has devastated everyone across the entire Princess Cruises organization.
We are, and will continue to support his family during this difficult period."
It is a dangerous practice to raise boats with crew members inside. Cable and davit failures are relatively common and cause catastrophic injuries.
In 2012, the cruise industry's trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), adopted a new policy prohibiting crew members in lifeboats when they are being raised or lowered. But some ships still engage in this dangerous practice.
There's an interesting comment on the popular on line cruise community Cruise Critic that the Allure of the Seas left Nassau 2 hours late yesterday because of an issue with the lift cable of lifeboat number 1. According to this passenger, the cable to the lifeboat apparently snapped and needs repair.
The issue arises whether there are sufficient lifeboats for all of the passengers and, if not, whether the cruise line has obtained a waiver from the flag state (the Bahamas).
There seems to be some suggestion floated out there that the Allure has more lifeboats than necessary.
Royal Caribbean says that it normally has 18 lifeboats which each carry 370 people for a total of 6,660 passengers. (Crew members have to slide down chutes into liferafts). So with only 17 lifeboats aboard, the cruise ship has a capacity of 6,290. How many passengers are on board now? Wikipedia says that the Allure has a maximum capacity of 6,296.
One person commented on Cruise Critic that the capacity of 370 includes 16 crew assigned to each boat, so it actually carries 354 passengers. With only 17 lifeboats, there is room for only 6,018 passengers.
I'd hate to see an emergency and a problem develop with another lifeboat.
Has Royal Caribbean issued a statement about this?
December 11 2013 Update: Cruise Critic just published an article pointing out that Royal Caribbean's Legend of the Seas was sailing without one of its lifeboats after a pulley malfunctioned in Cabo. Cruise Critic obtained a quote from a Royal Caribbean spokesperson claiming that the Allure of the Seas is permitted to sail with a lifeboat missing because ""we had enough safety crafts for everyone onboard the ship . . . Our ships carry extra lifesaving vessels at all times." Unfortunately, the cruise line's comments are vague. It refers to life "crafts" but does not specify whether it has enough life "boats" for the passengers versus life "rafts" which are used for the crew and which you have to enter by jumping down a 60 foot chute, which is dangerous. What exactly is the number of passengers currently aboard the Allure?
A number of people have left comments on our Facebook page saying "no big deal" because the passengers can just jump down a chute into a raft if a lifeboat or two are missing. Take a look below and ask yourself whether you or your family want to do this. We have also reported on 20 crew members being seriously injured jumping down one of these type of chutes.
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.
A retired U.S. Coast Guard official called me last week about issues of cruise ship safety. We had an interesting hour and one-half discussion about whether modern cruise ships are designed to safely evacuate passengers and crew members in times of emergencies like fires or sinkings.
Our conversation began with Royal Caribbean's biggest cruise ships in the world, the Oasis of the Seas and the Allure of the Seas.
Royal Caribbean touts these news ships as technological marvels of the world. But the evacuation procedures are strictly old-school.
Some aspects of the emergency abandon ship systems are flat-out dangerous.
The cruise line's press releases mentions that the cruise ship has 18 lifeboats each with a 370 passenger capacity. It says that "lifeboats on Oasis of the Seas have been entirely redesigned and approved as part of a holistic evacuation concept."
But the truth of the matter is that Royal Caribbean had a major problem when it designed the largest cruise ships on the planet. There is a regulation stating that the maximum number of people permitted aboard a lifeboat is 150. There is no way that the cruise line could build a ship with over 55 lifeboats carrying 150 people each. So in order to cram enough people into lifeboats, the cruise line obtained a waiver to increase the maximum lifeboat capacity up to 370 people.
Royal Caribbean not only has the largest cruise ships in the world, but it has the largest lifeboats in the world.
But does it have enough?
18 lifeboats with a capacity of 370 equals only 6,660 people. Oasis has a total maximum population of around 8,500 when you count its capacity of around 6,300 passengers and 2,200 crew members. That means that there are around 1,850 people without the lifeboats which Royal Caribbean raves about.
Royal Caribbean's press statement makes no mention of it, but those who are not assigned or cannot fit into the limited number of lifeboats must use "emergency evacuation chutes." The term used on the Royal Caribbean ships is "Viking Dual Evacuation Chute." What is this you may ask? You won't find Royal Caribbean talking much about the chute system.
If you look at photographs of the Oasis (or the Allure), along the side of the ship at deck 4 you will see three large lifeboats in-a-line leading from the stern. Then you will see a row of canisters (others may call then cylinders), looking like old depth charges, positioned one on top of the other on deck 4.
When these canisters are opened (see video bottom), a life-raft inflates in the water below. (We are talking about life-rafts - not lifeboats). These life-rafts are connected to a series of chutes running up to deck 4. The passengers and/or crew evacuate the cruise ships by jumping into the entrance to this emergency evacuation apparatus on deck 4. They then rapidly slide / fall down a steep, vertical drop into the inflated life-raft below.
These type of devices are dangerous. There have been a significant number of people killed or seriously injured while trying to evacuate 4 or 5 stories down steep chutes like this.
In November, I wrote an article about 20 crew members seriously injured in a drill using this type of system who suffered broken bones, sprained ankles, and friction burns during the steep descent. Further injuries were avoided only when other crew members refused to jump. A union representative characterized the evacuation system as "unsuitable and dangerous."
PBS aired a documentary on behalf of "Inside Nova" which looked at the Oasis of the Seas' evacuation procedures. PBS videotaped the operation of the chutes. In the video below you can see crew members tugging on the chute when suddenly a crew member comes flying out - landing violently on his buttocks. After catching his breath, he exclaims "I got stuck!"
Now the first reaction to the video may be that it seems funny. But if you think about it for a second, it is actually terrifying. The placard on the cruise ship shows families with little kids and infants who are lining up to jump. The drawing on the ship actually show a mother clinging to her infant sailing down the chute a few feet above another passenger while a large man is jumping into the chute above her. I cannot imagine a more dangerous scenario.
Can you imagine what would happen if a 235 lb man lands on a 130 lb woman holding on to her 25 lb infant at the bottom of the chute? Serious injury would occur. Serious head injuries are likely if multiple people and children are in the chute at the same time. Far fetched? Hardly. This scenario is actually depicted in the instructional drawings on the Oasis itself.
Royal Caribbean may say that only crew members are suppose to use this system. That's mentioned on the PBS video where you can see photographs of the chute system. That does not say much for the cruise line's consideration of the safety of its own crew.
But why do the drawings 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. And if in fact only crew members are assigned to the chutes, why should they be subject to such dangers on a cruise ship which its owners tout as the safest ship in the world?
The other issue to consider, of course, is what happens if the Oasis suffers a Costa Concordia type of accident where the cruise ship lifts heavily to one side? As we know from the Concordia, the lifeboats could not be deployed once the ship listed to 22 degrees. Half of the Concordia lifeboats, on the port side of the vessel, were useless once the ship listed to the starboard side. If anything like this happens on the Oasis, there will be a riot where passengers and crew fight to get into the remaining lifeboats and the rest will be left to take their chances jumping down the chutes hoping to land in a raft many stories below.
Then there are the wind and sea conditions. All of the drills for the Oasis or Allure take place on sunny days in the calm waters of the Caribbean. Take a look here for an example. Around and around the lifeboats drive in the protected waters of a beautiful lagoon in the Caribbean. What fun.
But what happens when these ships are re-positioned to Europe, Indonesia or Australia where there are high seas and unpredictable weather? After all, Royal Caribbean is ordering more Oasis class monster ships right now. Trying to evacuate thousands of people down chutes into life-rafts in high waves and winds could be a disaster. There is also the risk of the tether ropes breaking, the chutes twisting, or the life-rafts ripping away from the chutes.
I for one would hate to think of anyone's spouse, or kids, or parents, whether they are crew or passengers, having to jump into an evacuation chute and fall 50 feet into a raft in rough seas.
A chute and a raft are hardly a "holistic" approach to survival. It's a disappointing and antiquated way of trying to save lives on the supposedly most sophisticated cruise ship in the world.
Don't forget to watch the video of the chute system below:
A newspaper in Finland is reporting that twenty crew members received injuries during a lifeboat drill aboard the Findlandia cruise ship operated by Eckerö Line in Tallinn.
The newspaper states that crew members suffered broken bones and sprained ankles, as well as friction burns caused by trying to slow their descent during the steep drop into a life raft.
Unlike most lifeboat systems in which the crew will board the lifeboat and then descend into the water, the system on the Findlandia involves a chute which drops straight down to the life rafts in the water. It does not look much different than chutes which construction crews use in dumping construction debris from upper floors into a dumpster on the street below.
You can see the system in the photograph to the left. It looks very dangerous.
The drill was suspended only when the Eckerö crew members refused to follow their colleagues down the chute.
”The exercise should have been called off as soon as the injuries came,” said a representative of a Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi.
A representative of the Finnish Seamen’s Union stated that the evacuation system used is "unsuitable and dangerous," although it was approved in the European Union.
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.
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