Yesterday the New York Times published an insightful article about the failure of the cruise industry to design their cruise ships with redundant engine systems such that if one set of engines is knocked out by a fire or explosion, another set of engines in a separate compartment would provide power to the cruise ship.
Entitled "Lack of Backup Power Puts Cruise Passengers at the Ocean’s Mercy," the article explains that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) proposed guidelines calling for cruise lines to to equip cruise ships with backup engines and generators. The redundant engine systems and back up systems are are needed not only to maintain electricity, refrigeration, and toilet operations, but to maintain power to prevent the ship from pitching violently in strong waves.
Just yesterday I spoke with a retired Coast Guard officer about what happens when a ship at sea loses all power. He expressed concern of how the cruise ship would be evacuated if the vessel loses power. There would be no way to lower the lifeboats!
The newspaper explains that pursuant to the IMO recommendations, any cruise ship built after July 2010 is required to have redundant engine systems. But the cruise industry largely chose not to add backup systems to new cruise ships.
The IMO, a United Nations organization, has no authority to impose sanctions when cruise lines ignore the IMO’s guidelines.
A naval architect, Larrie Ferreiro, is quoted in the newspaper explaining that a cruise line can design the ships either to put more equipment or more people on it: “The more passenger cabins you can fit into that envelope the more revenue you can get." Only 10% of the cruise ships have redundant systems, according to the NY Times.
In the unregulated world of cruising, this means that 90% of the cruise ships out there may become "dead in the water" when an engine room fire breaks out. That places passengers and crew at unnecessary risk of injury or death at sea.
Photo Credit: Carnival Triumph engine room – US Coast Guard