Opinion Are Today’s Cruise Ships Too Big to Be Safe?

Are Today’s Cruise Ships Too Big to Be Safe?

Cruise ships are a lot bigger than they used to be.  In fact, in the last 10 years cruise ships have increased 50% in size in terms of gross tonnage.  So with some cruise ships being able to hold almost 9,000 people, including passengers and crew, does the capacity of these ships make it harder to perform evacuation procedures?

After the Costa Concordia disaster I have heard people asking about the safety of some of the larger cruise ships that exist.  While it might sound like a valid question considering some of the troubles the cruise industry has seen lately, I want to look at some reasons why larger cruise ships may actually be safer.

First, it should be noted that the Costa Concordia wreck was almost 100% human error.  The ship was way too close to the shore, the captain did not order the abandon ship until after an hour and a half after the ship hit the rocks, and the passengers were not ushered onto the lifeboats in a timely manner.

Even though the captain’s lawyer exclaims that the man is a hero for steering the ship closer to the shore after the accident, the simple truth of the matter is that the Costa Concordia never should have been that close to the shore in the first place.

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What other cruise liner disasters can you think of other than the Titanic?  Over 20 million people cruise safely every year, and it’s only when something out of the ordinary happens that you hear about it.

So how are the larger cruise ships safer?  When we talk about large cruise ships Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas have to come up.  They can each hold almost 5,500 passengers and over 2,000 crew members, and there are some people that think a larger cruise ship will never be built.  Time will tell on that one.    But in cases of emergency these ships offer more ways to evacuate and larger lifeboats than any of the smaller ships.

Some of today’s large cruise ships also offer some of the most state-of-the-art safety features that allow for a more care-free experience.  Along with better safety guidelines and better technology for determining the depth of the water along with many other things, new regulations are being put into place for muster drills to take place while the ships are still in port.

You might think that bigger cruise ships present bigger challenges when it comes to getting everyone off the ship in case of an emergency, but with many more exits and lifeboats to accommodate each person, cruise lines can get everyone off the ships well before the 30 minute mark, which is the international safety standard.  This would have been very doable had the captain of the Concordia ordered the abandon ship sooner.  The problem was that the ship was listing so bad after the order was given that some of the lifeboats could not be used.

With more control and technology these ships can offer both comfort of body and peace of mind as you cruise the open seas.  The bigger factor in cruise ship safety is the cruise line’s commitment to safety and the competence of the captain and crew.

Got a comment?  Let us know with a reply to this post below.  We’d love to hear from you on this one.

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J. Souza
Jon got hooked on cruising after his first cruise on his honeymoon, and today he is always looking for cruise deals and reading information about the cruise industry. Jon lives in the foothills of North Carolina and wishes there were a cruise port that far inland. Jon can be reached at [email protected]
Opinion Are Today’s Cruise Ships Too Big to Be Safe?

8 COMMENTS

  1. It will be easy to pin the blame on the ship’s captain. It’ll be a lot cheaper, too. The problem is, it won’t do any good.

    After all, Schettino is responsible. He ran his ship into the rocks. He also had a duty to remain on board after he grounded the ship, to organize the evacuation.

    But it’s difficult to say what else he could have done, apart from giving up his seat in a lifeboat. The ship’s top-heavy design made it prone to list and capsize. By the time the ship was going slowly enough to launch the boats, that list had rendered half of them — the port side’s — useless. It’s no wonder that the evacuation took over four hours: 2,100 people had no boats. What if they hadn’t been close enough to shore for the starboard life-boats to come back for them? What if the ship hadn’t been grounded before it capsized? The Costa Concordia is a warning. With larger ships on the drawing boards, thousands of lives are at stake.

    Anyone in a car accident has every right to expect that all — not just half — of the car’s safety systems work. We don’t just blame it all on the driver — even if he ran a red light.

    • It took the captain 73 minutes to order the evacuation of the ship, in which time he places several calls to Costa Crociere trying to figure out what to do. He was obviously not prepared for such an event, but ordering an evacuation even 45 minutes sooner would have prevented such sever tragedy.

    • Evacuating the ship 45 minutes earlier? When the ship hit the rocks and lost power it was still doing 16 knots — too fast to launch the life-boats safely. Long before the ship was slowed sufficiently, it was listing too much to allow the port-side life-boats to be launched.

      The Titanic disaster led to the rule that there had to be life-boat space for every person on board. Megaships have become so vulnerable to capsizing that half of those lifeboats can’t be used, if the ship’s hull is damaged. That takes us back to a lower standard of safety than Titanic’s. It at least had life-boats for more than half of its passengers, had they been loaded properly.

    • Excellent point. The ship would indeed need time to slow down. But it still bears repeating that the ship had been listing for over 2o minutes before the “abandon ship” order was given. And in situations like this, every minute is crucial.

      It also should be noted that it was the coast guard that had to persuade the captain to both send a mayday signal and order the “abandon ship”. The mayday signal was not even given until 50 minutes after the collision. While these larger ships do present more complications, the Costa Concordia wreck was only made worse by the actions or lack of action by the captain.

      It still took 50 minutes after the collision for the ship to be listing 20 degrees, but lifeboats should have been lowered long before that. It doesn’t take even a large ship 50 minutes to slow down.

    • According to some unofficial reports, the ship had indeed slowed to 2 knots by 10:05, just 16 minutes after the collision. Doing so without the engines or the ship’s main power was difficult.
      They braked the ship by turning it broadside with the bow-thrusters, on emergency power. They were so close to shore that the only turn possible was to starboard. This may have accelerated the flooding, because it exposed the damaged port side of the ship. It also had the effect of increasing the ship’s list.
      Was that the right move? It looks like it. They were just minutes away from capsizing in open water. If that had happened, we could multiply the death toll by 100.
      As far as the safe launching angle for the lifeboats goes, I haven’t been able to track down the data. But I seem to recall the figure of 5 degrees being mentioned in a TV report. Even the life-boats are well above the ship’s waterline, so even 5 degrees is a lot to overcome.

    • A story in the Telegraph’s ‘Travel’ section claims that lifeboats must be capable of launching from 20 degrees. That’s supposed to be the regulation. It sure didn’t look like that on Costa Concordia.

  2. You might think that larger ships invite more chaos, but it has been my experience that larger ships feel a lot less crowded than smaller ships. In fact, some of the smaller ships offer less space for passengers to cram into for muster drills making the process of boarding the lifeboats even more complicated. But even this factor depends largely on how seriously the cruise line takes safety. I have been very impressed with some cruise line’s muster drills while other cruise lines left me wondering if they even cared about safety at all. No cruise ship is really designed for rough seas. The whole point of cruising is to avoid such seas even if it means changing the itinerary. That being said, it is true that sometimes rough seas cannot be avoided, but some of these” megaships” actually have faired very well in rough seas, even compared to smaller cruise ships without the “motel on top”. In fact, the Oasis of the Seas faced 50 foot waves and over 60mile per hour winds back in 2009 and many “sea sick prone” passengers didn’t even get sick and said the ship handled the weather with ease.

  3. Cruise travel is quite safe – but challenging folks to name disasters other than Titanic isn’t the way to prove it. Morro Castle, Yarmouth Castle, Andrea Doria / Stockholm, Prinsendam …

    1. Large ships have higher passenger-to-crew ratios. Fewer crew means more confusion in an emergency.
    2. Large ships’ deck crews (seamen) are not proportional to their size and the number of passengers. The passenger-to-trained-crew ratio is much higher than on small ships.
    3. Large mass-market ships typically have poorly-paid, less-trained “multinational” crews, hailing from dozens of countries and speaking dozens of languages. Small (upmarket) ships hire the best, most experienced seamen and hotel staff, who are generally fluent in English (or the languages of the majority of their passengers).
    4. Large megaships have huge superstructures. While stable, this huge tophamper can be dangerous in heavy winds and/or narrow passages. Ever been thru the channel to St George, Bermuda in an 85,000 tonner?
    5. Megaships invite chaos on the boat deck. Mustering may be indoors, but the boats are loaded outside … The square footage per person on a megaship’s boat deck is minimal – assuming that both sides are launch-capable, which wasn’t the case on Costa Concordia, so likely double the crowd.
    6. Large crowds are more likely to panic. Three thousand people on a crowded boat deck? How about four thousand to starboard and four thousand to port, and a few hundred astern?
    7. Megaships are more likely to rely upon rafts, which (while faster to launch) are extremely difficult to load, and are inherently more frightening for passengers. Rafts also require careful handling, thus exacerbating the passenger/crew and passenger/seamen problems of megaships.
    8. There are structural differences between “cruise ships” (which Titanic surely wasn’t) and liners. QM2 is strongly built; Concordia was not; Costa Allegra began life as a container ship. Modern megaships aren’t designed for rough seas. Subjectively, my experience has been that small ships, modern and “classic,” are far better sea boats. There’s a price to pay in stability, metacentric height, etc. for seven decks of balconied cabins. Not saying megaships are unsafe, but a smaller vessel without the motel on top is far more comfortable in a seaway. “Cruising the open seas”? That’s the place for a true liner, not a bloated motel-on-a-raft.

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