The Titanic Chronicles: No Ship Is Unsinkable

TitanicAt the time of her maiden and final voyage, RMS Titanic was the most advanced vessel of her day. Proud owner White Star Line thought her unsinkable and set out to show the world their new ship. Little did shipbuilders know that the grand ocean liner’s enduring legacy would not be a new record crossing the Atlantic but a warning to the future. A warning that, while well heeded, could not stop near-tragedies of modern day maritime history.

Titanic was designed to compete with Cunard Line’s Lusitania and Mauretania and focused on high-end luxury travel – very much as depicted in the movie “Titanic.”

Out of 840 staterooms, almost half were first-class accommodations. The ship was built for pleasure and beauty. It was filling that order, which would contribute to the loss of life just days after launching Titanic. The ship was designed to hold 32 lifeboats but only 20 were on board.

Cruise line management thought too many lifeboats would take away from the beauty of the ship. The 20 lifeboats on board Titanic could carry a total of 1,178 of the 3,547 passengers the ship might have if fully loaded. On that tragic night in 1912 when Titanic sank, the SS Californian was the closest ship to Titanic and many believe it could have easily rescued all on board. Unfortunately, the radio operator went to sleep not long before Titanic started broadcasting emergency distress messages.

After the Titanic sinking, ships were required to have enough lifeboats for everyone on the ship. Existing ships were refitted in a variety of ways and ship design changed to address safety issues.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life A Sea (SOLAS) is 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, advanced weather forecasting and navigational equipment on cruise ships take advantage of the great strides made possible by modern technology. GPS monitoring allows cruise lines to know where cruise ships are at all times. On-board video surveillance systems keep track of passengers and crew and are often called upon to solve cases of crime at sea.

Today, there are plenty of lifeboats for all passengers and crew. But the near-disaster of Costa Concordia, the ship that was grounded in Italy earlier this year, profess that simply having enough lifeboats may not be the answer. Laid on its side, many of the emergency craft were rendered useless and had it not been for quick-thinking crew members and sheer luck, the number of lives lost could have been far more.



[Flickr photo via scmikeburton]

Cruise Ships Still Choking Brooklyn, Not Plugging In, A Year Later

cruise ships at red hookAlmost a year ago, Brooklyn’s Red Hook cruise ship terminal was to become the first East Coast cruise operation with the capability to let ships “plug in” and access power off the grid. Now, almost a year later, ships have still not plugged in to cleaner, shore-side electric power and continue to spew fumes.

Cruise ships annually bring 1,500 tons of carbon dioxide, 95 tons of nitrous oxide and 6.5 tons of particulate matter when they park and burn their diesel engines.

Last April, Gadling reported that the $15 million project would be funded with $12 million from the Port Authority, nearly $3 million from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grant and Carnival Corporation would spend $4 million to retrofit their Princess Cruises and Cunard Line ships that dock in Brooklyn.

Now, costs have shot up another $4.3 million and the Environmental Protection Agency has not paid the extra money, according to local elected officials.

“It is critical that this project not fall by the wayside,” said Rep. Nydia Velasquez (D-Brooklyn) in an article appearing in the New York Daily News.

Apparently, the cruise ships are ready to go but the system is still not in place for them to plug in, even though West Coast cruise terminals have had the ability for quite some time.

“It seems fairly pathetic that all of these things are in place but the Port Authority are twiddling their thumbs,” Adam Armstrong, 48, a blogger and father of two who lives on Pioneer Street near the terminal, told the Daily News. “I thought it was quibbling over a small amount of money considering the impact of the emissions on people’s health.”

It has been almost three years since Carnival Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal Port Authority first agreed to enable cruise ships to plug in to green shore-side power.

Last year, community leaders applauded the move to shore-side power. This year, not so much.


Flickr photo by j_bary

Royal Wedding packages ready to go

Royal Wedding PackagesOn the eve of the wedding of the century, Cunard Line prepared for its own Royal Wedding festivities taking place while sailing during the festivities. Officers and crew of flagship Queen Mary 2 put final celebratory touches on board yesterday in New York as guests embarked for the ship’s first Eastbound Crossing of the 2011 Transatlantic Season.

“We will mark this commemorative occasion in the way expected of Cunard, and it promises to be a right royal event on board all three of our Queens,” said Peter Shanks, president of Cunard Line. “For guests sailing a Transatlantic Crossing, it is an experience like no other, and the Royal Wedding celebrations certainly add to what is already a voyage fit for royalty.”

Guests sailing any one of the three Cunard Queens will enjoy
  • Viewing party of the Royal Wedding live via satellite TV broadcast in the Royal Court Theatre and in all staterooms
  • Royal Wedding Afternoon Tea service featuring Twinings limited edition Royal Wedding Tea
  • A commemorative “Princess Royale” cocktail to mark the occasion
  • A celebration dinner and commemorative menu at each of the restaurants, including a slice of traditional wedding fruitcake
  • A royal champagne toast to Miss Catherine Middleton and HRH Prince William by the ship’s Captain
  • A Royal Wedding Ball with dancing to a big band orchestra in the Queens Room ballroom

Cunard Line goes back a long time with the British Royal Family. It was 1859 when Queen Victoria bestowed the title of Baronet to Samuel Cunard (Cunard Line founder) for his services to the country during the Crimean War. Since then, eight Cunard liners have been named by senior members of the Royal Family – four by Her Majesty The Queen, including the recent October 2010 Royal Naming Ceremony of the Line’s newest ship, Queen Elizabeth.

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How to pirate-proof a ship

how to pirate-proof shipsRazor wire, Gurkhas and sonic weapons are being routinely deployed on ships sailing in the pirate-infested waters off the Horn of Africa in an attempt to pirate-proof ships of all kinds. While ships try to go through the Suez Canal, pirate attacks on pretty much anything sailing off East Africa are rising and extra measures are being taken to protect the ships and their passengers.

A 25-nation naval presence is helping but earlier this year the Saga cruise ship Spirit Of Adventure was chased by and eventually outpaced pirates in the Indian Ocean.Shipping companies and cruise lines won’t say exactly what they are doing to deter pirates but Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth has been deploying razor wire to make boarding from the sea all but impossible. A Cunard spokesman told Express.co.uk “When we are in the at-risk area we deploy lookouts all around the ship to ensure that no boats are trying to get close. “On the stern, which is the pirates’ favoured point of access, we have used razor wire. The passengers can see it but it can’t harm them as it is fenced off.”

Cruise ships typically monitor the sea with radar and use speed of their ships and the height of their lower decks to thwart pirates. Sonic weapons are also being used that put out a debilitating sound that turns pirates away as are high-power water hoses to knock pirates back down to water level.

“Our ships are fast and have a lot of people on board – 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew on the Queen Elizabeth – so the chances of pirates even attempting to tackle a ship like that are very low” Cunard said.

Flickr photo by expertinfantry

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The Legacy of Titanic, what we learned in the last 99 years

The Legacy of Titanic
This week marks the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic on April 15, 1912. If you have seen the movie, you know the basic story. Four days into a transatlantic crossing, the ship hit an iceberg just before midnight then sank hours later. In one of the deadliest disasters in maritime history, over 1500 people died in the icy water south of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. Today’s cruise industry exists and operates in many ways as a result of the Titanic tragedy. This week we take a look at the legacy left behind that affects cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.

Going down this road, safety at sea comes up as a primary topic when thinking of the Titanic.

In the world of travel agents from which I came, “Titanic” is a word avoided almost as much as “torpedoes” and “pirates”. I remember being told when I started “If you say the word “sink” you better be talking about a place to wash out your coffee cup and if you say the word “sunk” you better be talking about basketball.” When asked what he thought would happen to the cruise business if a cruise ship sank today, a cruise line sales manager told me over lunch one day “Oh, we don’t even talk about that.” The mood of that luncheon became somber from that point on.

Those keywords are not what we want to think about. It’s not the pretty picture of a serene cruise vacation that marketers want us to buy into. Cruise lines, sellers of travel and the like, want those images to be as far from our minds as possible. Ninety-nine years puts a lot of time between us and the sinking of the Titanic when 1517 passengers died.

Still, there are people charged to never forget Titanic and make it their job to take lessons learned back then, build upon them and move forward.

It can be as simple as the intensity that today’s cruise ship crew members have during the typical safety drill performed at the beginning of each cruise. This is not a time for joking around and having a frozen cocktail. That came before the safety drill and will resume after. As passengers follow directions during a safety drill, now is the time to practice what to do if faced with the worst possible event at sea.

It can be as complex as set-in-stone rules regarding documentation needed to board a passenger ship. The requirements are strict and systems on board keep track of every passenger coming on or going off a ship. Behind-the-scenes activities performed by everyone from travel agents to embarkation staff at the pier help insure a safe voyage.

It can be as commonplace as a change in the itinerary of a cruise ship due to weather, safety or mechanical concerns. That topic has come up a lot recently as ships from all major cruise lines canceled calls to trouble-spots around the globe. Each year during hurricane season, itineraries are commonly changed to avoid major storms. Not long ago, a major cruise ship lost power and had to be towed back to port.

Cruise liners today are much bigger and better equipped. At 46,328 gross registered tons, Titanic was the largest and most advanced ship of her day. Today’s largest and most advanced ship, Allure of the Seas, is more than four times larger and carries almost twice as many people. Big ships are not nearly as “remarkable” as they were in 1912. Shipyards seem to crank them out as fast as they are ordered. Cruise lines deploy ships all over the planet now without hesitation to move one if an itinerary does not produce the anticipated results. Are today’s cruise lines operating as safely as possible? Is it possible to ever have another Titanic-like event?

Join us tomorrow and the rest of this week as we answer those questions and remember some mistakes made at the time that might have avoided the tragedy altogether.

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Flickr photo by scmikeburton