The Titanic Chronicles: 100 Years Ago Today

TitanicThe story of RMS Titanic, immortalized by the 1997 James Cameron film of the same name, is a lasting one. Bringing the story to theaters in a blockbuster hit, enhanced and re-released this month, gave the story life long after so many had died at sea. Now, footage of recent maritime events, including the grounding of Costa Concordia and fires aboard other ships, brought home a realism no film could match. Still, the fate of Titanic still holds as the worst maritime disaster ever, one that occurred on this day, 100 years ago.

11:40 p.m. on April 15, 1912 was a Sunday and the maiden voyage of RMS Titanic was well underway. Earlier in the day, radio messages received warned of icebergs in the ship’s path but were ignored. That night, a lookout cried “Iceberg, right ahead!” but the ship could not avoid a collision. That iceberg ran down the right side of the ship causing fatal damage to what was believed to be an unsinkable vessel.

Just after Midnight, the ship’s captain ordered lifeboats into the water in what had to be his most difficult decision ever.

Still today, the Captain is referred to as the Master of the Vessel. Still today, he or she has a great many lives to be responsible for. In January, it was Captain Francisco Schettino who gave the abandon ship order for Costa Concordia.

In April of 1912, it was Captain Edward J. Smith as the master of Titanic who was fully aware of the iceberg warnings that had been received via radio days before the tragedy. To insure safety, even back then, Smith charted a new course, slightly south of the original plan, to avoid icebergs.But radio was a new thing then and the focus was on relaying messages sent to and from the ship by passengers or those on land. Earlier in the day of that fateful night in 1912 – 100 years ago today – Titanic had received a message from the steamer Amerika warning of icebergs directly in the path of the ship. Later, another message of iceberg danger was received too. Both went unheeded as radio operators worked to send and receive more important passenger messages.

Today’s cruise ship Captains regularly alter courses too, commonly in response to changing weather conditions. When a crime occurs involving passengers or the crew, the captain, as master of the vessel, is responsible for those people as well and works closely with the US Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Patrol and other agencies to insure a swift and just resolution.

Not long ago, evidence indicated that Captain Francisco Schettino altered the course of Costa Concordia, coming too close to shore and causing the tragedy that followed. The event caused cruise industry leaders to reaffirm their commitment to safety.

Officers and crew members from Royal Caribbean, along with sister-brands Celebrity and Azamara Cruises, now have the advantage of being a part of 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 recently as part of an ongoing safety program but timing surely looked to address current concerns of the cruising public.

“This was not a knee-jerk reaction to recent events,” Captain William Wright, senior vice president of marine operations for Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises said of the two year process to get the facility to opening day.

Still, while simulations can take into account a variety of factors that can go wrong, staff members at the Resolve training facility quickly note that it is the human element that can often make the difference in avoiding disaster at sea.



Fiction: The Titanic being raised out of the Atlantic.

[Flickr photo by mecookie]

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]

The Titanic Chronicles: This Week We Remember

TitanicToday’s cruise industry exists and operates safely in many ways as a result of the Titanic tragedy. Still, recent maritime events including the grounding of Costa Concordia nearly brought to pass the most feared event in the world of cruise vacations. This week, with Sunday marking the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, we take a look at the legacy left behind that affects cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.

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.

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

In the travel business, “Titanic” is a word avoided almost as much as “torpedoes” and “pirates.” Common advice given to new cruise travel agents has been: “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 and the travel industry as a whole want those images to be as far from our minds as possible. Ninety-nine years puts a lot of time between today 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. Now passengers follow directions during a safety drill understanding that this 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 financial results.

Are today’s cruise lines operating as safely as possible?

Is it possible to ever have another Titanic-like event?

These were ongoing questions asked prior to the grounding of Costa Concordia, the ship that suffered a similar fate off the coast of Italy earlier this year. Today’s shipbuilders stop short of calling ships “unsinkable,” as White Star Line did of Titanic in 1912, but still place a great emphasis on safety. Lessons from Titanic brought plenty of lifeboats on board for everyone and mandatory safety drills so passengers and crew could abandon ships in an orderly manner.

Lessons from Concordia will no doubt leave a similar legacy, not allowing Captains to deviate from planned courses to show off the ship, reaffirming a commitment to safety and looking for new ways to make ships safer.


Titanic 3D Re-Release Trailer



Flickr photo by paukrus

The Legacy of Titanic- A bright future for cruising

The legacy of titanic
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 in ways that affect cruise passengers on every sailing of every ship.

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 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 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 and serves as a non-governmental consultative organization to the International Maritime Organization, an agency of the United Nations.

But long before CLIA, 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. Cruise lines today are engaging technology like never before too.

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.

Cruise ships are “plugging in” when docked too. The Port of Los Angeles recently became the first with the ability to provide shoreside 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.

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. Each crew member holds a U.S. seafarers visa and has thus undergone a U.S. 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” adds CLIA.

We often focus on flashy events like Kid Rock hosting a theme cruise, a new emphasis on fitness at sea or tips for those about to go on a cruise. But at the end of the day, all hoopla aside, these are still very large ocean-going vessels that often sail very far away from the safety of land.

You better believe cruise lines have safety as their top priority.

Even with today’s modern technology, even with all we know and have learned since Titanic, even today’s cruise ships are no match for an angry mother nature.

Flickr photo by Mecookie

The Legacy of Titanic- Cruise Lines learn about reality

The Legacy of Titanic
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