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

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

More cruise lines cancel calls to Mazatlan after shooting

Carnival Splendor is back after months of repairs after the disabling fire of last November. There will be no call in Mazatlan though as Carnival Cruise Lines, along with Norwegian Cruise Lines canceled calls to Mazatlan last week. The shooting of two men in the parking lot of a hotel is to blame.

The two men shot were not tourists or cruise ship passengers but the hotel is one frequented by tourists on a regular basis and that was good enough reason to divert ships.

Carnival Splendor spent an extra day in Cabo San Lucas on it’s seven-day Mexican Riviera itinerary that returns today. Carnival will decide on future calls after a full assessment of the situation.

Norwegian Cruise Lines decision was much more final, canceling all future calls for the rest of the season.

Right at a month ago, Mazatlan and Mexico government officials were doing all they could to get more cruise lines back after a series of violent acts forced them to cancel calls.

“We highly value our long-standing relationships within the cruise industry, and are dedicated to ensuring that Mazatlan remains among the top cruise destinations on Mexico’s Pacific Coast. Mazatlan has hosted nearly 1.5 million cruise passengers since 2008 and is widely regarded as one of the safest destinations in Mexico.” said Julio Birrueta, spokesperson for the Mazatlan Tourism Trust at the time.

On future calls to the area, Carnival said “Until we are able to obtain all of the facts and fully assess the situation, no decision has been made regarding future calls” in a statement.

Flickr photo by ccharmon

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Cruise lines seek new ports, secure islands to visit

“You can only go to Cozumel just so many times” is a common complaint from frequent cruise travelers, bored with the same ports being offered by cruise lines year after year. As the cruise industry matures and more repeat passengers come back for more, they look to sail in some different directions.

Celebrity Cruises Eclipse will sail from Southampton boasting new destinations such as Reykjavik in Iceland, Genoa in Italy, and Ponta Delgada in the Azores. The 2012 return of the popular ship will bring revised cruise itineraries in response to guest demand including a series of eight and fourteen night cruises.

“Celebrity Eclipse is the most popular ship in the Celebrity Cruises fleet for UK and Irish holidaymakers, and we’ve further enhanced itineraries and destinations to keep guests coming back” explains Dominic Paul, Vice President & Managing Director, UK & Ireland.

New calls will be made to St Lucia in the 2012-2013 season too when Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Sun makes regular visits to the island.

Cruise line itineraries are chosen based on a number of factors including safety, size of the ships, where other ships are going and more. The decision greatly impacts ports visited, bringing in considerable tourist spending when ships call.

“This is incredibly exciting news for our tourism sector. St Lucians are thrilled to welcome Norwegian,” said St Lucia tourism Minister Allen Chastanet of Norwegian Cruise Lines move to visit the island adding that “the decision to include regular stops to St Lucia was made after the company sampled the island’s offerings with limited calls in 2009.”

Cruise lines seek new ports for other reasons as well. Some not so great for local economies.

New ports, as well as existing ports, must meet and maintain standards demanded by the cruise lines. Don’t meet the standards down the road? Cruise lines will pull out and go someplace else.

When violence in Mexico reached a level of concern, cruise lines, one by one, were quick to divert to different ports. To get them back, Mexican government officials had to prove their ports safe, secure and a good place for cruise ship passengers to visit.

The threat of cruise lines moving their mobile assets to safer waters happens commonly for weather-related issues too. As master of the vessel, the ship’s captain will occasionally skip ports or revise itineraries when weather conditions that day warrant staying out of harms way. That’s part of every cruise passenger contract, the agreement all guests buy into before boarding a cruise ship.

It may be rough seas that at a port requiring a tender operation using smaller boats to ferry guests to and from the ship. An approaching storm, not on the radar when the ship first started its voyage may cause a modified itinerary down the line.

Often discounted by travel purists as a lesser travel experience, there is a lot that goes into a cruise vacation and each sailing is unique. While it may appear that ships run the same routes over and over, these are ocean-going vessels manned by experienced seamen, not a ride at an amusement park. New ports are often planned years in advance and all factors that go into making for a safe, secure and enjoyable experience have to be in place before the first ships visits.

Flickr photo by Loimere

Somali pirate ordeal ends with death of religious Americans

They were on year seven of a ten-year around-the-world voyage, passing out bibles from New Zealand to Alaska to Fiji and all points in-between. Their voyage came to a tragic end today as Somaili pirates shot and killed captives Jean and Scott Adam of Southern California and Phyllis Mackay and Bob Riggle of Seattle.

US forces had been trailing the captured m/v Quest when shots were heard on board this morning. A special forces team engaged in a brief firefight with the armed pirates then confirmed: all four hostages had been shot.

The incident is raising questions and demanding answers from governments around the world.The killing of the four Americans only puts a brighter spotlight on a growing problem as pirates become more violent and abusive to hostages. Previously, the bulk of damage done by Somali pirates has been financial. Holding ships for ransom as they attempted to pass through hostile waters, they currently hold 30 ships and more than 600 hostages. Historically fetching millions in ransom, the turn to killing raises questions.

Did the hostages try to fight back to the point that they posed a greater danger than they were worth in potential ransom? Were the killings retribution by pirates for the capturing of some of their own recently?

AOL Travel tells us “The U.S. Navy had been following the hijacked yacht with an FBI negotiating team on board. When shots were fired aboard the Quest, a Navy special ops team boarded the vessel and discovered the travelers had been murdered.”

We may never know the reason for the senseless deaths of the Americans simply traveling to share their beliefs with others. We do know that pirate activity has made waters around eastern Africa, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian sea a deadly place to be. Diplomatic steps have failed. Peaceful nations continue to be outraged over events.

Over the weekend, President Obama was advised of the situation and authorized use of force against the pirates “in case of imminent threat” said White House Press Secretary Jim Carney.

The big question being asked worldwide over the ordeal: What happens next and what ends this?

Recent events suggest an increased effort to capture pirates may be key.

You’re watching Somali Pirates Captured by India to Face Trial. See the Web’s top videos on AOL Video


What to do if pirates board your cruise ship

It’s not often that we get stories of pirates boarding cruise ships. Our friends at AOLTravel had one the other day though that caught our attention. When Somali pirates stalked a cruise ship in the Indian ocean recently, we’re told that “Passengers decked out for a black tie dinner on a British cruise ship on the Indian Ocean were told to hide below decks when a speed boat allegedly carrying Somali pirates came alongside the ship.”

Everything turned out fine in that case but you can bet that some passengers were wondering what might happen if things went badly.

A cool epilogue for that story, the latest lazer weapons may be the trick to ridding the world of real-life pirates. Apparently they work a lot like if a jet fighter pilot attacks from the direction of the sun. The glare from the lazer is so brilliant that it is impossible for pirates to aim weapons in the direction of ships using them. Yeah, like I said: cool.

Major cruise lines catering to US passengers stay clear of waters where pirate activity is noticed anyway though. Almost always when the subject of safety at sea comes up, some common-sense tips can protect us from hazards, most of which happen on the ship, not on pirate-infested waters.

  • Leave valuables at home. You don’t need the diamond tiara for formal night.
  • Sexual assault is the most common cruise-ship crime. Follow good-sense rules like never leaving drinks unattended. Don’t travel alone if you can avoid it.
  • Protect your health too. Noro-virus on cruise ships is common. Wash hands frequently. Avoid using hand rails on staircases, buttons on elevators and pretty much all buffets.
  • Keep your eyes open. You’d do it in Paris, London, or any other travel destination in the world. A cruise ship too is a destination these days and the bigger they get the more like cities they are. Get that many humans in one place and bad stuff is bound to happen at some time or another.

Those common sense tips are important and easy to understand. Some elements of a cruise vacation are a bit harder to get used to, rarely come up, but can have serious implications on how on-board incidents are handled.

  • Most cruise ships are foreign-flagged. Because of that, they are subject to only some US laws. Workplace employment laws, for example, do not apply. Not that the cruise lines are abusing the crew out of your sight, but workplace regulations on US soil don’t apply. When you hear that the captain of the ship is the “master of the vessel” believe it. At sea, that captain can be judge and jury for most matters that pertain to the safety of the ship, passengers and crew.
  • When a crime happens, the law followed depends on where the ship is. A crime happening in port is easy, those are subject to the laws of whatever land the ship is in. At sea, the country that governs those waters steps in. Far out at sea, international maritime law applies.

Still, state-side maritime attorneys chase after cruise ships looking for justice that is sometimes escapable by cruise lines in international waters.

Your best bet on what to do if pirates board your ship?

Get out your camera. It’s far more likely that you are on a sailing of a Disney cruise ship and that pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow acting out a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Flickr photo by Rev Stan