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.
June 3 2013 Update: What Caused the Fire Aboard the Grandeur of the Seas?