The Titanic Chronicles: Today’s Safer Cruise Ships

Titanic“Safety is a journey rather than a destination,” said Royal Caribbean President and CEO Adam Goldstein in a sobering blog post echoing the position of the entire cruise industry in the wake of the Costa Concordia accident.

In the whole business of safety at sea, there are several major players and topics to consider. In today’s world, modern ship technology aims to prevent another tragedy like Titanic from ever happening again, but yet the same sort of event nearly did happen with the recent grounding of Costa Concordia in Italy. But also in today’s world, security surrounding ships in port and at sea has come clearly into focus to address a threat of terrorism not thought of in the days of the Titanic.

“The cruise industry’s highest priority is to ensure the safety and security of their passengers, crew and vessels,” says the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world’s largest cruise association dedicated to the promotion and growth of the cruise industry. CLIA is composed of 26 of the major cruise lines serving North America and is an organization that operates pursuant to an agreement filed with the Federal Maritime Commission under the Shipping Act of 1984. Moreover, CLIA serves as a non-governmental consultative organization to the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

But long before CLIA was formed, the International Convention for the Safety of Life At Sea (SOLAS) was a treaty passed in 1914 in answer to the sinking of the Titanic. It addressed the lifeboat issue along with specifying emergency equipment and procedures including radio watches.Today’s cruise ships meet or exceed increasingly more stringent safety standards set before them. But even though they were thought to be enough to keep Titanic-like events from happening again, they fell short of preventing the Costa Concordia tragedy. Still, cruise lines today are utilizing technology like never before.

Celebrity Cruises recently rolled out a new design of ship built from not the passenger’s point-of-view like Titanic, but from the hull up. A new teflon-like coating on the hull reduces fuel consumption by allowing the ship to sail more smoothly through the water too.

Many cruise ships, outfitted with the latest technology are “plugging in” when docked. The Port of Los Angeles recently became the first with the ability to provide shore side power to three different cruise lines. Using the Alternative Maritime Power system, ships from Princess Cruises, Disney Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line can now turn off their polluting engines while in port.

Recently, officers and crew members from Royal Caribbean, along with sister-brands Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, were given access to a new simulator training center at Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale. Signaling a renewed focus on safety, staff of the $6.5 million facility cut the grand opening ribbon as part of an ongoing safety program but timing surely looked to address current concerns of the cruising public.

Gadling recently attended a demonstration of the new state-of-the-art system and was shown a whole lot of impressive hardware in action that can simulate ships at sea under any weather conditions. A dramatic live drill on how to handle fire at sea using a variety of real-life scenarios was awe-inspiring. But most notable of the information we learned there was the facilities keen focus on the human element – the captain, crew and passengers aboard any given ship.

Reviewing a real-life near-tragedy where multiple factors came into play, nearly causing a disaster at sea, an instructor from the Maritime Academy said, “Any one of these factors could have caused a disaster and there is nothing anyone could have done to prevent it from happening. The reason a disaster did not occur was because a human made a call that took all these factors into account to avoid it”

On the matter of security, cruise ships give safety in this area high priority as well.

“Security procedures include the 100 percent inspection of all passengers, their carry-on baggage and luggage,” adds CLIA. “Each crew member holds a US seafarers visa and has thus undergone a US State Department background check prior to visa issuance. In addition, all crew members and guests are placed on an official manifest and may embark and disembark only after passing through a security checkpoint. Once a ship is underway, only documented employees and fare-paying passengers are on board.”

Looking to the future, Goldstein cautions against complacency. “This is a never ending cycle. As our Chairman Richard Fain says, ‘there is no such thing as perfect safety but there is such a thing as perfect dedication to safety.’ We strive to be true to that concept.”

[Flickr photo by formatc1]