Allure of the Seas - Enough Life Boats?When the executives at Royal Caribbean trotted out the Oasis of the Seas several years ago, they took special efforts to tout that the evacuation and life saving systems on this huge ship were the best in the world. After all, this was the largest, most technologically advanced, and most expensive cruise ship in the world.

Cruise CEO and President Adam Goldstein characterized the evacuation system for passengers as a "holistic" approach to saving lives. You can read about the "holistic" design here on an official Royal Caribbean press statement.

Royal Caribbean produced carefully crafted videos showing that its "revolutionary" huge state-of-the-art 370 person capacity life boats would safely rescue the passengers if anything wrong happened on the high seas requiring an evacuation. 

You can see the video below with William Wright, who captained the Oasis from Europe to Fort Lauderdale, promoting the life boats as marvels of the sea. The video says that the new life boats have double redundancy: double engines, double propellers, and double rudders, in addition to well-lighted and spacious boats, which according to Royal Caribbean would ensure that the 16 crew members assigned to each life boat could comfortably ferry the 354 passengers to safety. 

You could almost hear the thoughts of the cruise executives: we have to assure our customers that this money-making-beast-of-a-ship can safely evacuate 8,500 passengers and crew who are jam-packed together in this highly compressed space. As a result, the public was presented with the nonsensical "holistic" message from CEO Goldstein and the slick video production starring captain Wright (since unceremoniously fired from the company) stating that the passengers are even safer in the life boats!

Many maritime experts believe that the size of the new huge cruise ships make it harder to evacuate quickly and safely. Cruise lines are required to evacuate all passengers and crew in just 30 minutes, which seems like a tall order considering that there could be as many as 8,500 passengers and crew aboard these ships. But CEO Richard Fain promoted his giant ships by claiming that evacuation is in fact Oasis of the Seas Chute and Raft faster on larger ships because "they have more entrances and exits." He went as far as to claim that passengers are actually safer in gigantic cruise ships. 

But what Royal Caribbean was not telling the public was that the life boats were severely limited in number and were only for the passengers. Crew members have to jump down a 60′ chute into a flimsy life raft – not a life boat.

The chutes and rafts are contained in canisters located on the ship which deploy and drop down into the water. I last mentioned these type of canisters following the fire aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas last May which burned many of the canisters located on the stern of the cruise ship.

Take a look at the bottom video which shows a Royal Caribbean crew member who gets stuck in the chute and then flies out and lands violently on his back.  We’ve also written about an incident where 20 crew members were injured in a drill using a similar chute and raft system.      

Recently, the issue arose whether there are an adequate number of lifeboats on the Allure and the Oasis, after the Allure left one of its lifeboats behind in Nassau because of a problem with a cable.

There are only 18 lifeboats to begin with on these ships. Each life boat has a capacity of 370 people, cpnsisting of 354 passengers and 16 crew members who are responsible for overseeing the passengers and maneuvering the life boat.  With only 17 life boats, there is room for only 6,018 passengers; whereas, the Allure has a capacity of 6,296.

The passengers who are not permitted into a life boat will be forced to use something Royal Caribbean and its executives never touted as either revolutionary or "holistic" – the dangerous chute and raft system used by crew members. 

When we broke this story, there was a blow back by the cruise line and many crew members. Royal Caribbean claimed that "we had enough safety crafts for everyone onboard the ship . . . Our ships carry extra lifesaving vessels at all times." Unfortunately, the cruise line use of the words life "crafts" and "vessels" did not distinguish whether it has enough newly designed life "boats" for the passengers versus the dangerous old-school life "rafts" used by the crew.

"Stop nitpicking and creating a controversy!" seemed to be the sentiment by the cruise line and most crew members. These supporters of Royal Caribbean pointed out that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requires the ship to have 25% extra life craft capacity for the maximum capacity of the passengers and crew and there’s no evidence that the Allure was in violation of that when it sailed.

My response is that the IMO requirements are a minimum. More importantly, what about the executives’ promises of the revolutionary and holistic approach to saving human souls?  Are grandmothers and children and mothers with babies going to have to jump into the chutes into a lifeboat from deck four, commando style?

It seems so, and the cruise executives know it.  Take a look at the evacuation procedure diagrams on the Oasis. The schematics 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

The last comment posted to my article said:

"Stop nitpicking, whether it’s a craft, raft, or boat as long as there is something in case of an emergency i don’t think most people would care. These rafts are the same one the US Navy uses, if it’s safe for our troops it’s safe for me."

When people leave comments on my blog like this, they automatically leave their internet provider (IP) address. The IP address of this person indicated that the person sent the message from Royal Caribbean in Miami. Whether this macho man was a frustrated low level employee or someone in the operations or safety departments, I’ll never know. But someone over at the cruise line thinks that it’s okay (and a darn patriotic thing to do!) for passengers to jump down a 60 foot chute acting like Rambo.

I doubt that 75 year old grandmothers or little grand kids realize that they are signing up for this tour of duty when they embark on a luxury cruise of the Caribbean aboard the Allure or the Oasis.  

Perhaps the cruise line is right that it is in technical compliance with the minimal IMO requirements. But the cruise line should be transparent with its guests. It should tell its passengers that instead of a "holistic" rescue in "revolutionary" life boats, they should be prepared to act like a Navy Seal jumping into a raft in a combat zone.

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This week the United States Coast Guard rescued two cruise passengers – one ill young man from the NCL Gem cruise ship sailing off the coast of North Carolina and a second young woman from the Explorer cruise ship who was suffering from an appendicitis attack near Key West Florida. 

When we report on these type of rescues, we sometimes hear from readers of Cruise Law News complaining that the cost of the medical evacuations should be borne by the sick passengers themselves. 

We especially hear these complaints when a passenger inadvertently goes overboard.  Was the passenger acting negligently or was he or she under the influence of alcohol (a major money Carnival Splendor Cruise Ship Fire maker for the cruise lines).  If so, many people protest loudly and angrily that the cruise passenger should bear the extra fuel expenses and other costs incurred by the cruise ship and the Coast Guard searching for the missing passenger.   

Federal agencies are prohibited by law from seeking reimbursement of the costs associated with search and rescue of this type. 

So who bears the expense when the cruise lines act irresponsibly and the cruise goes terribly wrong?

Consider the fire last year aboard the Carnival Splendor which caused the cruise ship to lose power off of the coast of Mexico.  The Carnival ship was disabled due to the negligent design of the cruise ship itself which risked the lives of 4,500 passengers and crew.  As we reported before, the U.S. Coast Guard blasted Carnival for its defective engines and poorly designed safety instructions which caused several thousands of passengers to find themselves helplessly adrift at sea without lighting, air conditioning or hot water on the high seas. 

Carnival quickly considered legal claims against the companies which designed and manufactured the engines which failed.  Carnival did not hesitate making a claim against these companies for the revenues lost while the Splendor sat in dry dock being repaired.

But who paid for the enormous costs associated with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard responding to the emergency?  

You will recall that the U.S. Navy sent an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, to the scene as the mostly U.S. passengers bobbed around on the high seas.  The Navy utilized four aircraft and helicopters to assist the stricken Carnival ship.  The Navy made twenty-four airlifts of food and provisions which its aircrew skilfully dropped onto the Carnival cruise ship to feed the passengers.  

How much did this cost and who was paying for it? 

I inquired around and the only knowledgeable source was the International Cruise Victims ("ICV") organization whose President, Ken Carver, had requested information from the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard pursuant to a Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") request.

The U.S. Navy timely responded to Mr. Carver’s FOIA request.  The Navy disclosed that it delivered 60 pallets, weighing over 37,000 pounds, of "bread, luncheon meat, pop tarts, canned crab, water and paper plates." 

Considering the cost of positioning an aircraft carrier, dispatching multiple aircraft and helicopters, and delivering tons of food and water to be dropped onto the cruise ship, the Navy stated that it spent $1,884,376.75 responding to the fire aboard the Carnival Splendor cruise ship.  

This figure does not include the costs incurred by the U.S. Coast Guard in responding to the crisis. Unfortunately, the Coast Guard has not yet provided any information in response to Mr. Carver’s FOIA request dating back to earlier this year.

The Coast Guard’s costs were undoubtedly another $2,000,000 or so in personnel and fuel costs for their vessels and helicopters.

There is a certain irony that cruise lines, which structure their businesses to avoid U.S. taxes and U.S. safety regulations, are dependent on the generosity of our Federal agencies in responding to emergencies when they get themselves into a jam.  

Cruise lines incorporate in foreign countries like Liberia and Panama and register their cruise ships in foreign Aircraft Carrier Ronald Reagan - Carnival Splendorcountries like the Bahamas in order to avoid U.S. laws and all U.S. income taxes. The cruise industry collects over $35,000,000,000 (billion) a year in income from mostly income-tax-paying-Americans, yet it avoids U.S. corporate income tax by incorporating itself and registering its ship abroad.

But when the cruise ships catch on fire and are adrift on the high seas, cruise lines like Carnival are the first to make a distress call to the United States and ask for favors from the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard. 

When cruise passengers were thinking of suing Carnival last year for the inconvenience caused by the cruise fire aboard the Splendor, I was the first one to say don’t do it.  Many of the major news networks and newspapers picked up on the my don’t-sue-Carnival message, like the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Fox News,  ABA Journal, Gadling, and the U.K’s Mirror.

At the end of the day, it was not the cruise passengers who filed suit.  It was Carnival who made legal claims against the companies which designed and manufactured its engines.  Carnival made millions in the process.

Did Carnival, the only one suing, repay the U.S. government?  

Not a penny.

So who paid for all of the millions of dollars in emergency services expended by our U.S. Navy and Coast Guard arising from the negligence of the tax-avoiding, foreign flagged and incorporated cruise line which stranded thousands of tax-paying Americans on the high seas?

You, the American taxpayers.    

 

For additional information about the Carnival Splendor fire and cruise ship fires in general, consider reading:

Carnival Splendor CO2 Firefighting System: "A Recipe for Failure"

"Coast Guard Blasts Carnival Splendor for Fire Negligence"

Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires – Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything? 

  

Photo credit:  bottom photo / U.S.S. Ronald Reagan – providencefox.com