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 Carnival Triumph Engine Room Firemaintain 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   

  • A.J. Dutari

    I agree with the NYT article. However, The comments by the USCG retired officer you spoke to appear to be incorrect. Lifeboats davits fitted on ships are gravity type. That is, the weight of the boat brings the boat down. The persons lowering the boat act on a brake bring the boat safely on the water. I am not entirely familiar with the procedure required to swing the boats outward of the ship’s hull prior to lowering them on the brake, but I assume that they would swing out by gravity as well. The weak link here is MAINTENANCE, INSPECTIONS AND DRILLS which are issues which are sometimes questionable in the cruise industry as a whole.

  • francois clermont

    I will be extremely curious to have a picture of the engine room and the mainswitchgear . I think all is controlled via computer and there are no option to synchronise manually the generators that is the main reason for the fire. The 10KV system is also part of the problem if you have an arc developping on bus bar or a fire with lot of carbon smoke with a 10 KV it will arc all over the place all remote input/output to and from the computer will be grilled and unless you have a very good electrical engineer it will be impossible to restart

  • Richard Lanni

    If the cruise lines DO NOT have to adopt these suggestions, perhaps the President and Congress of the United States should NOT ALLOW these cruise lines to port in the United States and/or start paying taxes and livable wages!! Ports include New York, Baltimore, Port Canaveral, Tampa, Miami, New Orleans, Galveston San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Honolulu and Seward. (and others)

  • Tim

    It is only a matter of time before a Triumph type incident occurs on a Trans Atlanta/Pacific cruise. I imagine the larger waves in the open ocean would have a greater impact on the ship. If an evacuation was necessary, would the lifeboats bang into the side of the ship? I was on an Allure cruise recently and in what seemed to be relatively calms seas, there was more motion than I would want if I were being lowered in a lifeboat. How long would it take for a tug to arrive?

    Rolling the dice but some gambles are worth taking… unless it happens to you!