Just two days ago, the news broke about a wave smashing windows out in the Waldorf Restaurant aboard the Marco Polo cruise ship killing one elderly passenger and injuring a dozen passengers and crew members. Passengers disembarking the 49 year-old former-Russian vessel this morning complained about the poor condition of the cruise ship.

The widow of the passenger who died when the windows exploded in said that the ship was "badly maintained." The Daily Echo quoted her saying that ”There’s so much paint on the outside you can’t see the rust, they just slop some more on when they get to port."

Marco Polo PassengersBut seemingly just as soon as the passengers had disembarked the old ship, the Marco Polo was already preparing to leave on its next scheduled cruise.

The cruise ship’s operator, Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), was quick to issue a corporate PR statement downplaying the incident. It characterized the wave as a "freak" incident, a designation which was contradicted by numerous passengers who characterized the worsening rough weather as an ongoing process requiring them to ride the ship "like a bucking bronco."

CMV described the damage to the vessel as involving only a "small section of Marco Polo’s Waldorf Restaurant," but it neglected to mention that the entire restaurant was flooded with 3 to 5 inches of water. Today, somehow the ship had already completed the "required reparation works," and the cruise ship had already "been cleared to sail by the authorities."

Just who are the "authorities" who gave the old ship a green light to again sail on the same day that it returned to port after the deadly cruise?  The ship is registered in Nassau, Bahamas which could care less about inspecting the ship and will never conduct an analysis of the casualty nor issue a report for public reading.

Other basic questions need to be asked.

How were the "required reparation works" conducted so quickly during such a short turn-around?  Was the ship, constructed back in 1964, completely inspected from bow to stern by qualified experts? Were independent marine surveyors permitted to inspect the damage before the scene was altered?  Was the dead man’s family members provided an opportunity to hire their own experts to assess the cause and origin of window failures?

If this casualty involved a U.S. commercial aviation incident where the windows of a Delta jet blew out causing death and injuries to the passengers and crew, the airplane would be shut down indefinitely pending an exhaustive inspection and analysis by the stringent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the aircraft manufacturer, component vendor companies, maintenance companies and other companies. Even the FBI would be a part of the investigation.

But this incident involved the largely unregulated "anything-goes" world of foreign-flagged cruise ships where the ships never stop and the cruise operator PR people are left to praise themselves rather than scrutinize what went wrong. 

CMV has already claimed that the wave was a "freak" which in legal terms means its was allegedly "unforeseeable" which CMV’s lawyers will contend. The weather broadcasts, wind and sea forecasts, and nautical charts showing wind speed and wave heights are of no consequence it seems. The cruise operator has already settled on its defense strategy. The Marco Polo is already heading out to sea again.

CMV already boasts that its ship is allegedly in compliance with "strict" international maritime "requirements" (the International Maritime Organization has no authority to even enforce its own recommendations).  Remarkably, the cruise line praises its captain and officers who sailed into harm’s way while inviting the elderly guests to sit like ducks next to the windows as the giant waves Marco Polo BBCcrashed upon the ship. 

Instead of such cheerleading and gushing praise, a criminal investigation should be initiated into whether manslaughter charges should be leveled against the captain, the navigational officers and the senior managers who permitted the passengers to sit precariously close to the restaurant windows under such dangerous circumstances.

The ship never should have been permitted to take new passengers aboard today. It should have been detained. The Marco Polo should be immediately returned to port and undergo a thorough and complete survey before it leaves port again anytime soon. 

February 18 2014 Update: A newspaper in the U.K. contains an interview of a couple of the cruise who "do not believe that the ordeal was the result of a freak wave but that of gale-force wind and said that there was an incident even on the first night of the 42-night cruise." A window blew in earlier.  A reader left this comment to the story:

We were on the ship too, in the restaurant and also found out that the man who died was our shipboard next door neighbour. I too take issue with the word ‘freak’ allowing commentators to write off the incident as tragic but one of those things. Others were seriously injured that day. If it was a freak wave it was one of a series . . . 


Photo Credits:

Marco Polo Passengers – BBC News

Marco Polo: BBC News / Martin Dalton

  • John Goldsmith

    Well Jim, You said it yourself. The International Maritime Organization has no teeth. I’m sure the NTSB has more clout. In fact, I’m quite sure the inspections on the kids rides at the mall here in Edmonton have more regulations and inspection than all ships do. You can blame the Ship owners, You can blame the corporations, you can also blame the country of registry. However, until governments act on current laws and proposed amendments –you know nothing will change.So even with all your congressional hearings, or our parliament committees our politicians and their minions will bow the the richest lobbyist and do exactly what is asked of them…nothing.

  • If you had the slightest clue what you are talking about, you would be dangerous. As it is, you display a lamentable ignorance of international maritime law, the UK authorities, the ship Marco Polo, and its operators, CMV. Quite what do you expect a “thorough and complete survey” to achieve? You seize upon an unfortunate tragedy as yet another excuse to bash the cruise industry. I have every sympathy with the dead passenger’s grieving widow, but you unquestioningly accept her statement about the maintenance of the ship as if she were a qualified marine surveyor. Keep on chasing those ambulances, Jim

  • Mr. Honeywell. You are a shill for the cruise lines. In exchange for a free or discounted cruise, you will eagerly write a good review. In my opinion, you are involved in the worse type of prostitution possible. You put aside any intellectual honesty you may possess for a-paid-for-vacation on the high seas. Rally for your CMV friends “Greybeard,” your insults belie your professed job as an honest “journalist.” You are a paid-for hack. Does the Mirror condone your bias and personal attacks?

  • Russell Garbutt

    Very interesting reading indeed. I was on the Marco Polo on an Antarctica voyage when, in the middle of Drake Passage at about 7am the ship’s entire propulsion went down. Apparently due to about 80 tons of water being put into the diesel tanks in Ushuia. 70knot winds and very big seas meant that the ship went beam on to the swells which led to 45 degree rolls for an extended period of time. Since that voyage under Orient Lines, the ship seems to have entered a different sector of the cruising market. Would love to know who the current Captains are.

  • Bob Mac

    The IMO is not an enforcement Agency period. It’s function under the UN Charter is to set uniform Maritime Policy which is then enacted into International Law and enforced by the member countries including the USA. This is achieved by Flag State Surveys, Port State Inspections and so on.
    The US Congress is not a Law Enforcement Agency. Neither is the IMO.

    In this case it would be reasonable to assume the Port State in this case the UK would have shown an interest particularly since it is one of their citizens that was killed. Maybe so maybe not – the information is not available.

  • Tony Weaver

    Exactly how did you get into Maritime Law? Through daddy? It’s seems to me that you are on one side only, the victim’s side.
    To me, you are just a nosy idiot with nothing better to do than slag off the cruise industry!

  • You sound like the worst part of the cruise industry.

  • John Goldsmith

    Folks, Jim always appears to take one side on the argument. As a Lawyer, he does represent Victims of crime and other incidents on cruise ships. I’m sure there is more to his practice, but remember, this site is designed to point out what the cruise ship corporations really don’t want published. I do not always agree with him, but I respect his right to express his views on his site.

    Overall, though I am concerned that the laws put in place by governments are not enforced by those same governments in relation to the corporation that violate those laws. Without any penalty at all, any corporation will get away with the violations for as long as they can. Whether a Cruise Corporation or a toy maker.

  • Peter Howard

    I was in the restaurant with my wife at the time when the windows blew. Fortunately we were not hit by the water and showers of broken glass. The waves had been battering the windows for some time. Water was already leaking out of one of the windows before the blow. We escaped as swiftly as possible ‘paddling’ through the water that covered the whole of the restaurant. In the rush to escape I left my bag behind with my camera, IPad, kindle,mobile phone and books in it. This was never recovered so I have a loss of nearly £1000. ‘Loss at sea was the explanation given to me’

    My question is why where protective covers not placed over the windows in these storm conditions and why where the windows not made of safety or reinforced glass? My cabin porthole on the same deck had been closed by order of the captain as we were approaching ‘high seas’.

  • Richard Bosworth

    I too was on the Marco Polo on that fateful afternoon. The comment by CMV that the wave was a “freak” really annoys me. In the weather conditions we were in many waves of that size had buffeted the ship. If there was a freak condition it was simply the alignment of the windows and the breaking wave. This alignment obviously put more pressure on the windows than they could withstand. I think the comments made in this article asking why the Captain was sailing in such conditions rather than delaying our return to Tilbury, and the question of how well the ship was configured to best survive those conditions, lead me to question the ability of this Captain and CMV to truly put the safety of the passengers and crew above all else. We have cancelled a planned cruise with CMV which we were due to take later in 2014.

  • Mandy Bosworth-Jones

    I, too, was present in the Waldorf Restaurant, about 20 feet from where the windows gave way. I saw a wall of water coming towards me, and just ran. The water was up to my knees. I am incensed that the Company describes this event as a “freak wave”, thus exonerating themselves from any responsibility; it was nothing of the kind. All the waves were around 25 feet or more, and were hitting the side of the ship with great force. The windows of the restaurant should certainly, in retrospect,have been boarded up in these conditions. As a “mere” passenger, one trusted that the windows were sturdy enough to withstand these terrible forces. How naive!
    I question why we were there in the first place, since the bad weather had been predicted well before we left the Azores. Perhaps if we had run for cover to one of the available French ports, that man would be alive today, but the ship would have been late for its onward voyage to Norway, of course, no doubt costing CMV money! I shall never travel with CMV again, and will tell others to beware, as I do not believe that passenger safety is the main priority with this company.

  • Pam Searles

    If that was a “Freak” wave then they were all “Freak” waves, we also were in the Waldorf when it happened. We all know why we were put in that position purely loss of revenue!!

  • John Clarke

    It is noted that the large picture windows in the restaurant beneath the main deck were not a feature of the original design of the ship as Alexandr Puskin or other ships in this series but were cut into the hull later when it was refitted. This must form part of the investigation in addition to other factors eg the ship not remaining in the Azores for shelter. Large picture windows and their frames cut into the hull ie in the lower section of teh ship nearer to the waterline (not the superstructure) become weak points when the hull is subject to force of sea and they can be subject to forces of several tonnes per square metre if hit by waves. It was reported in the press that passengers had claimed that seals were leaking and some fixing were missing.

  • Todd Hamperd

    Does the Captain of Marco Polo know anything about reducing speed, change course,understands the capabilities of the vessel and the most important takking care of the life of the pax and crew and not only to be …good to the company for his salary and the position.

  • Warwick Calleia

    It is not at all a relevant comparison Air safety and ship safety. Air lines have a proper maintenance plan and any failure can be fatal to those passengers and ones in all the identical planes flying round the world. All plane stuff is investigated to avoid having to piece one together later which is also done. Your story is excellent other than that point. And in America similarly a window that came out of a one off ship is no reflection of marine safety.