Cruise Ship Wreck Removal Underway Amid New Questions Of Cause

It’s been nearly seven months since the cruise ship Costa Concordia grounded off the coast of Italy, leaving 32 dead. After lying on its side since the January 13th grounding, Costa Concordia will next be stood back up, re-floated and towed to an Italian port. But what looks to be a simple operation will involve the coordination of several salvage companies and cost millions.

A big part of the salvage plan to remove the wreck calls for 30 watertight boxes, called cassions, to re-float the ship in one piece. Once the ship has been stabilized, caissons will be fixed to the upper side of the hull and gradually filled with water as part of the operation to right the ship.

Using a system of hydraulic jacks fixed to an undersea platform, the ship will be brought upright, underwater. When the ship is upright, caissons full of water also will be fixed to the other side of the hull. Then the caissons on both sides will be filled with air to re-float the wreck as we see in this simulation.

Salvage operations began with the removal of fuel from the ship to address environmental concerns. Once the wreck is removed, the focus goes back on to the seabed with a cleanup operation devised to conserve the marine environment. The preliminary stage is expected to finish by the end of July, followed by the ship stabilization phase in August.

Looking back, history will remember the Concordia event as more of a near miss than a Titanic-like disaster.

Looking forward, via an Operational Safety Review performed by the cruise industry, improved safety measures have been put in place to prevent an incident like this from happening again.

This week, new information revealed in an Associated Press report raises more questions. The black box stopped recording before the ship was evacuated. Watertight doors, designed to keep the ship afloat, were left open. Unauthorized maps were found in the bridge.

Did these new discoveries have something to do with the wreck? That is unknown at this time so stay tuned as this story continues.

[Flickr photo by EU Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection]

Brave Travelers Wanted: Your Cruise Ship Awaits

Otherwise brave and robust travelers have been having second thoughts about cruise vacations – and rightfully so. The grounding of Costa Concordia, a fire on Costa Allegra not long after and thoughts of the 100-year anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic are all valid concerns. Wondering what the experience might be like, we bought a ticket for a ride on Princess Cruises‘ newly remodeled Grand Princess and lived to tell about it.

I know for a fact how very safe cruise vacations are; the numbers speak for themselves. I really do believe that cruise lines value our safety as the number one priority at sea and that only makes sense too. After all, at sea is where the show happens and if they don’t take care of business when completely surrounded by ocean in all directions as far as the eye can see, the future looks grim.

But as much as I love this business, I could not help but look at Port Everglades, full of ships as it commonly is on any given Saturday, a bit differently.

Was I scared to go on a cruise?


Did I have any doubt that Princess would deliver a safe, quality experience?

Absolutely not. They are, after all, the line of the Love Boat.

Still, I was about to board a cruise ship. Every single sailing we had done before this did not have the shadow of a modern day maritime event that seriously flirted with disaster hanging over it. Embarkation seemed normal but I found myself looking closely at procedures and precautions taken by the port authority and cruise line. “Were there always TSA agents present?” I asked myself and could not really remember if there were or not. I was glad to see them hanging around though.

Before boarding we were advised that there would be a mandatory safety drill at 3:15 p.m. That sounded like earlier than normal to me and we framed our early afternoon activities around it, giving that time more attention than on previous sailings in our minds. Unpacking, touring the ship and having lunch – everything seemed normal.

A great deal of attention was given to sanitation procedures, especially in the buffet area where an obvious priority was being placed on good food-handling procedures and eliminating as much opportunity as possible for norovirus situations to happen or get out of control. That made sense after a recent outbreak that caused ships from a number of lines to pump up efforts in that area.

When time came for the safety drill we had already been watching the clock with more interest than on previous sailings and were not surprised to see muster stations fill quickly.

Our safety drill was held in a large public venue, normally used for shows of some sort. We were advised that when the drill began there would be an eight- or nine-minute safety briefing that we should pay attention to.

When that drill started, from the moment it began, those feelings of apprehension that a great many of those on board felt almost instantly went away.

Why? Because when that safety drill started you could have heard a pin drop in that room. The deafening silence was broken only by a small group of teens, probably on a senior trip for spring break. Teens, of course, are indestructible in their minds.

Every single person, and there must have been 300 of them, gave that safety briefing their undivided attention signaling that they understood the importance of it.

Actually listening to the safety briefing as though our lives may depend on the information we were receiving, it was also clearly apparent that the ship was in good hands.

They had a plan on what to do if things went wrong, they knew how to execute it, were practicing part of that plan right then and would be diligent to protect our safety.

No longer were we relying on the undisputed but impersonal statistics of how many millions of people travel safely by cruise ships each year. No longer did we blindly believe it was a safe way to go because we had been on a bunch of cruises and nothing bad ever happened.

When the safety drill was over, the room cleared quickly and passengers went about their business of having a fabulous cruise vacation, whatever that might have meant to each of them. I suspect they might be having an even better time of it too, armed with the truly important information we received that day.

The tragic death of those passengers that did not make it off Costa Concordia will be remembered as a lesson learned by cruise lines, affecting how they do business now and in the future. Still, that event and those people who died should be given credit for arming passengers for many generations to come with a sense of urgency about safety that actually could save many more lives some day.

[Flickr photo via flickrized]

Russian riverboat tragedy highlights cruise ship safety

The Russian river boat Bulgaria went down at 2 p.m. local time Sunday about 450 miles east of Moscow. While the exact cause is unknown, it was reported to be raining heavily at the time, the ship was maintained poorly and a lax implementation of safety rules look to be contributing factors in the Titanic-like sinking of the ship. The tragic accident highlights good reasons for some of the strict requirements major cruise lines have for passengers.

The ship was overloaded

The 56 year old ship had 208 people on board including 25 unregistered passengers and not enough life vests in Russia’s worst river accident in three decades.

“We have raised 41 bodies. There are 28 women, 10 men and the rest are children,” an emergencies ministry official in the central Russian republic of Tatarstan where the accident occurred Sunday told the Interfax news agency.

This is one reason why major cruise lines (Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, etc) have cabins rated to hold a certain number of passengers. While double occupancy is the industry standard, a limited number of cabins on most ships will accommodate more, but not all. U.S. Coast Guard ship inspections put a high emphasis on safety and ships not in compliance with standards are not able to sail. Period.

Children lost at sea

As many as 60 of the passengers may have been children, Russian media reported, and survivors said some 30 children had gathered in a room near the stern of the ship to play just minutes before it sank.

“Practically no children made it out. There were many children on the boat, very many,” survivor Natalya Makarova said on state television. She said she had lost her grip on her daughter as they struggled to escape.

Major cruise lines tag children with arm bands and know were children are. In order to board ships operated by major cruise lines, strict documentation requirements are in place that must be satisfied or boarding will be denied.

The Moscow Times reports that thirty-six children who died on the Bulgaria all had the same birth date, Dec. 30, 1999, on the passenger manifest, indicating that they were allowed to board without their identification documents, said ministry official Marat Rakhmatullin.

Safety is an ongoing issue with major cruise lines who are constantly working to make ships even safer. Royal Caribbean, for example, introduced a tagging system on Oasis of the Seas for three to 11-year-olds that uses an electronic device built into the wristbands that all children on the ship must wear. The system enables parents to locate children wherever they are among the ship’s 16 decks reports the Telegraph.

Safety not a big priority

Lax implementation of safety rules are responsible for many of Russia’s deadly accidents, from fires to plane crashes and mining disasters since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Major cruise lines hold safety drills at the beginning of each voyage so passengers know what to do in case of emergency.

‘It sank in two or three minutes, very fast,” Liliya Khaziyeva, a spokeswoman for the Rescue Service from the neighboring Udmurtia region, said by phone from a boat near the accident site. “We found dead people wearing life vests, people who were simply unable to leave the ship.” reports Business Week.

Last overhauled in 1980, the ship was running with a malfunctioning left engine and was not licensed to carry passengers.

One possible cause appeared to have been a lack of air conditioning which prompted the crew to open portholes that were then flooded by an incoming wave reports the Moscow Times.

Lessons learned

History will probably write that this ship sank over safety issues. From overloading the vessel with too many passengers to relaxed maintenance or simply attempting to operate a ship that was too old, the incident clearly points out how very important these issues are and what a good job major cruise lines do of answering the call for safety.

Safety drills at the beginning of each cruise on major cruise lines are mandatory, ships have ample life vests for all guests and oversight by government authorities keep the system in check.

Today’s Titanic

The Russian incident naturally raises some serious questions. Are today’s cruise lines operating as safely as possible? Is it possible to ever have another Titanic-like event?

Major cruise lines have 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.

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.

This Russian riverboat tragedy looks to be a totally preventable accident if common safety and maintenance procedures used by cruise lines world-wide had been followed. It is also a good reason to pay attention during those safety drills performed at the beginning of each cruise. Yes, odds are your cruise ship will not sink, but its a good idea to know what to do in case of an emergency and maybe have a little more patience with cruise line workers who insist on following the rules.

Flickr photo by mil8

Cruise lines loosen up, let guests in secret areas

Ever since the terrorist attack of 9/11 security has been tight on cruise ships, and rightfully so. As a great big floating hotel, ships are also great big floating targets. When it comes to security, cruise lines have an unwavering focus on protecting ships and passengers. Having made a higher level of security commonplace, cruise lines are once again opening doors that up to now have been locked tightly.

Below deck, backstage and behind “crew only” doors, the sophisticated operations of cruise ships have always been of interest to guests. Now, Royal Caribbean is granting access to those secret areas through an All Access Tour.

“The All Access Tour offers guests the opportunity to learn about what it takes on-board to deliver the world’s most contemporary vacation, also known as the Royal Advantage,” said Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of Hotel Operations, Royal Caribbean International.

Guests now have the option to visit behind-the-scenes operations spaces and meet key shipboard staff members on an escorted tour during their Royal Caribbean vacation. The All Access Tour will offer guests insight into the inner workings of some of the world’s largest cruise ships and be available fleet-wide.
“Our guests have always inquired into what happens behind the scenes and below deck” said Bauer, adding “We are glad to offer these really special guest tours into areas that are normally not accessible, escorted by staff members who explain the complex workings of running of the world’s largest and most innovative cruise ships.”

The $150 per person All Access Tour escorts guests into a variety of formerly “off limits” secret areas, including a visit to the bridge, galley, backstage of the main theater, engine control room and other behind-the-scenes operations areas that collectively create the best vacation experience and value for guests. At least one 3.5 hour All Access Tour will be offered on itineraries shorter than seven nights, and two tours offered aboard a seven-night or longer itinerary with additional tours added, based on demand.

It’s not just Royal Caribbean that is opening up areas not seen in a long time, Princess Cruises jumped in a while ago with their Bon Voyage Experience.

The program is a new twist on the departure celebration of bygone days, when friends and family would routinely come aboard to see off passengers. Because of increasingly tighter security procedures, this practice disappeared more than two decades ago, but Princess added it back last year, complete with lunch in the dining room and tour of the ship.

The Bon Voyage Experience enables passengers to extend an invitation to their guests to join them on-eboard during sailing day for a four-course dining room lunch with wine, a ship tour and a souvenir photo. Passengers and their guests get VIP priority embarkation and will be able to spend about four hours together on the ship before it sets sail. The cost for the program is $39 per person, which can be applied toward a future Princess cruise.

Princess Cruises also offers an immersive cooking experience where guests go behind the scenes for a Chef’s Table program.

Galley tours
available during the quiet off-hours are one thing, the Chef’s Table experience is quite another. This program takes interested diners behind the scenes during the height of dinner preparation in a fully-functioning production kitchen where they’ll also enjoy Champagne and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a special multi-course tasting dinner paired with selected wines in the dining room.

Sister-line Carnival Cruise Lines does a Chef’s Table too. This one-of-a-kind culinary experience includes an exquisite multi-course dinner hosted by one of the line’s master chefs along with a private champagne reception and a personalized tour of the galley for $75 per person.

As cruise lines loosen up, if programming like this is cause for worry that someone would join the tour with a bomb and blow up the ship, forget it. There was an armed security guard along on the tour every step of the way.

Flickr photo by sketchyparrot

The Legacy of Titanic- Cruise Lines learn about reality

Today’s cruise industry exists and operates as it does in many ways as a result of the Titanic tragedy. This week we take a look at the legacy left behind in ways that affect cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.

Titanic was the most advanced vessel of her day. Built with the best technology of the time, White Star Line which owned the ship thought her unsinkable.

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 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.

Join us tomorrow as we take a look at one of the key figures in the Legacy of Titanic, the Captain of the ship. We’ll explore the Captain’s role then and now as more cruise ships sail more itineraries in more parts of the world than ever before.

Flickr photo by formatc1