Cruise Ship Back In Baltimore After Fire, Repairs Continue

cruise ship
Chris Owen

When cruise ships come to town, civic leaders rejoice. The floating resorts bring with them jobs and tourism dollars that might be otherwise elusive. In May, Baltimore, Maryland, welcomed Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to town with gusto, as the state’s governor named May 13 Royal Caribbean Cruise Day. But the hoopla of that new cruise ship in town was short lived when just days later, the ship caught fire and was pulled out of service for repairs. Still, cruise lines are worth courting for cities and those cities are worth standing behind for cruise lines.

Returning to Baltimore this week, there was no brass band or gubernatorial declaration and the reason for the fire is still under investigation. Affecting three aft decks of the ship, some areas are still not ready for passengers, reports Travel Weekly. But local businesses and media are still excited to see the ship return, sailing from the Port of Baltimore on seven-night sailings to Bermuda and the Bahamas.


If any part of this story sounds familiar, there is good reason. Just last month we heard from governor O’Malley, then lobbying on behalf of Carnival Cruise Lines, looking for a waiver from new environmental rules to keep the cruise ships coming to the city. In 2011, Gadling was first to report cruise line crew members accused of smuggling drugs into the Port of Baltimore. Still, cruise travelers flock to Baltimore, often setting new records for passenger travel on a variety of year-round sailings.

Costa Concordia, Final Report: The Captain Did It

Costa ConcordiaCosta Concordia grounded off the coast of Italy in January 2012, where the cruise ship still sits today. Removal of the ship is a well-defined work in progress, now over halfway complete. Placing blame for the grounding, which resulted in the death of 32 people, is also coming into focus. Last week, Italian maritime authorities released a 176-page official report that documents much of what we already knew and verifies some suspicions.

Captain Francesco Schettino, 53, is blamed for causing the accident and delaying the evacuation. He is charged with manslaughter and abandoning ship. The report verifies that Schettino was in command of the vessel when it hit rocks off the coast of Tuscany.

OK, Maybe I Did Not Fall Into A Life Boat
Initially, Schettino had said that he “tripped and fell into a life boat,” rather than abandoning his ship. It was a claim he stuck to for months, vowing to clear his name.

“Soon I will reveal the shocking truth,” said Schettino in our report Captain Of Wrecked Cruise Ship Cries Foul, Says He’s Innocent. “And then all those people who denigrated me will have to apologize, not to me but to the families of the victims and to the public, which was conned with false information.”

That apology probably won’t be coming any time soon. According to the report, Schettino boarded a lifeboat leaving 300 passengers on board and was on land while 80 people were still on the ship, fighting for their lives.

The Captain Is Responsible, Like It Or Not
The report also highlights some serious communication problems, tagging Schettino for blame. One of he most serious: the Italian Coast Guard was not advised of the grounding by the ship, finding out only after being advised by a passenger’s mother.

Other elements of the incident, directly attributable to Schettino:

  • The grounding happened by sailing too fast and too close to shore
  • Delayed sounding the general alarm
  • Unauthorized people on the bridge were distracting him
  • Failed to consult large scale maps, causing him to use the wrong landmark on the island of Giglio to turn the ship
  • Minimized the seriousness of the accident to the coast guard

At one point in the aftermath of the Costa Concordia grounding, Schettino insisted that he saved thousands of lives by steering the ship toward shore where it eventually grounded. According to the detailed report, that would not have been possible as the ship’s rudder was not working at the time.

Other officers on Costa Concordia at the time have alleged blame too, mainly for allowing Schettino to make misleading “everything is just fine” announcements to passengers. His business-as-usual attitude apparently caused crew members to lose valuable time performing emergency duties.

Schettino denies the charges, but in May it was decided that there was enough evidence to try him for manslaughter, causing a shipwreck and abandoning ship while 4,200 passengers and crew were still aboard.

On the bright side, cruise travel has never been safer.

Right after the grounding of Costa Concordia, cruise lines worldwide took a detailed look at safety procedures in an industry-wide Operational Safety Review then a Preparedness Risk Assessment in 2013, bringing new rules and procedures that were universally adopted by all major lines. A new Cruise Industry Passenger Bill of Rights came out in May that details generally accepted procedures cruise travelers may not have known about.

Schettino will be the only defendant in a trial, which will begin on July 9 in Italy.

Want to see Costa Concordia, as it is today? Check out this recent video:

Missing Cruise Ship Spotted Off Coast Of Ireland

Missing cruise ship M/V Lyubov OrlovaA cruise ship that went missing back in January was spotted drifting toward the coast of Ireland late last week. The M/V Lyubov Orlova was on its way to the scrapyard when it broke away from a Canadian tug in international waters last month and hadn’t been seen since. It has been floating aimlessly across the Northern Atlantic and is now reportedly within 1200 nautical miles of the Irish coast.

The Russian-built cruise liner was seized in St. John’s, Newfoundland, back in 2010 because its owners were in debt to the tune of $250,000 and hadn’t paid the crew in over five months. In February of last year, the ship was bought by Neptune International Shipping and was scheduled to be scrapped in the Dominican Republic. That’s where it was headed when the ship broke free from the tug charged with delivering it to its final destination. When the crew of the tug failed to recapture it due to high winds and extremely choppy seas the Orlova was left to drift across the open ocean. Canadian authorities refused to mount a salvage operation because the vessel was adrift in international waters.

While in operation, the Orlova was designed to serve as an expedition ship, carrying passengers to both the Arctic and Antarctic. The past few years haven’t been kind to it, however, and while it sat empty in the St. John’s Harbor it has fallen into a state of disrepair. At the time of its departure it was also said to be overrun with rats.

The current owner of the vessel, Reza Shoeybi, is now scrambling to reclaim the ship. He says that he is working with salvage companies in Ireland to try to retrieve the vessel. Bad weather in the North Atlantic is hampering those efforts, however, and it may be some time before it can be captured and towed into shore.

In the meantime, the ship is open to rights of salvage as long as it remains in international waters. If you’ve ever dreamed of owning your own cruise ship, now is your chance.

[Photo Credit: Dan Conlin via WikiMedia]

Stricken Cruise Ship Passengers Make Most Of Bad Situation

cruise shipLife on board stricken cruise ship Carnival Triumph is far from the travel brochure promise of sandy beaches and warm Caribbean nights. As the ship is being towed to shore after an engine room fire knocked out the ship’s propulsion, passengers have had quite a different experience than what they bargained for. Still, experienced travelers know that not everything goes as planned and making the best of a bad situation often depends on how we choose to react when bad things happen along the way.

“I do want to commend our guests on board the Carnival Triumph … for doing a great job dealing with a difficult situation. I happen to believe that is the nature of the Carnival guests who happen to be very optimistic people (who) enjoy life,” said Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill at a press conference held Tuesday night at Carnival’s Miami headquarters.

Operating with limited services (although the bars are open and drinks are free), 102,000-ton Carnival Triumph is expected to arrive in Mobile, Alabama, on Thursday. Once there, the ship’s passengers will be disembarked quickly, given hot food and a night in one of 1,500 hotel rooms being held by the cruise line. That will no doubt be a welcome change to cold sandwiches and showers along with hot, unventilated cabins.

While reports from passengers on board via Twitter and Facebook vary from describing the situation as a “cruise from hell” to a more positive “we’ll sure remember this one,” odds are everyone will be happy when the sailing is over.”Generally speaking, the mood on board is good under the circumstances and most guests are making the most of it,” Carnival spokesman Vance Gulliksen told Travel Pulse.

On Friday, 20 charter flights will take passengers back to Houston where arrangements have been made to get them back home. Those on the ship right now will receive a full refund of what they paid for the cruise along with any non-refundable travel services and a complimentary cruise in the future.

The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board have launched an investigation into the incident.

Here is that press conference from Carnival’s Miami headquarters last night.



[Photo Credit- U.S. Coast Guard]

Holiday Cruise Vacation For 2013? Wait To Buy, About A Week

holiday

The holiday gifts have all been opened and some of Santa’s “nice” kids received exactly what they wanted. Others, leaning a bit towards the “naughty” side, not so much. If a cruise vacation was on that gift list for you, all hope is not lost. It is indeed possible to actually buy a cruise and get it for a price that adds up to a great travel value.

We are right around the corner from what travel agents call “wave season.” That’s the January through March flurry of sales that travel agencies see as many cruise travelers plan a cruise for 2013 or beyond.

Getting the best value depends on which cruise line, ship, sailing date, or itinerary you choose. Still, universal among most major cruise lines, some common-sense tips can bring home the best offer.

  • Holidays are popular- Christmas Eve/Day and New Year’s Eve/Day are the four most popular days to sail and command a premium price, year-round, with few exceptions.
  • Cruise lines commonly discount the third/fourth or more passengers in a cabin, making cramming kids a popular sport, subject to cruise line rules.
  • Cram as many kids as possible into a cabin- Most will hold up to four and while four large adults would be challenged, four average-size kids ages 10 to 21 will fit just fine. But in the same breath we say…
  • Be realistic about cabin size- A decade ago, I booked four large adults in a cabin for four people, and those four people called/screamed at me from the ship after boarding. Apparently, the discounted upper berths that looked so attractive when buying were only about half the width needed for our fluffy cruise traveler friends.
  • Be aware of the cruise line rules for traveling with kids- There is a minimum age. There are a limited number of cabins that will accommodate three, four or more people.
  • Book as far in advance as possible, especially if traveling with kids and/or your needs require cabins in a specific location (like next to each other), cabins that connect (like a door between them), or any cabins that have three or more guests in them, as these are in limited supply.
  • Book at the last minute- I had to force my fingers to type that. After decades of suggesting “buying far in advance is a good idea,” cruise lines may be changing their tune, awarding those who book at the last minute (30 days or so prior to sailing) some of the best values.

Frankly, the way cruise fare pricing is going right now, one of the best suggestions might very well be to book a flexible fare now and then lock in to a lower, restricted fare later. That action now would get travelers the cabin location they want with an opportunity for a better price down the road. Your travel agent can help with that. Not ready for a travel agent yet? Leave your questions here.

How to Get a Job on a Cruise Ship


[Photo Credit- Flickr user peter.clark]