Two Strikes in One Week
The cruise ship industry had two major blows this week. The biggest tragedy occurred in the Canary Islands where a lifeboat plunged to the sea during a safety drill involving the crew. Meanwhile, off the coast of Mexico an engine fire left a ship full of people adrift without propulsion or power.
Often times while cruise ships dock in port, the crew conducts lifeboat safety drills so they are well practiced in the event of an actual emergency. While docked at La Palma in the Canary islands, the Thomson Majesty of Thomson Cruises, a discount cruise line from the UK managed by a company called Louis Cruises, held a routine lifeboat drill. At the conclusion of a their drill a cable snapped as the lifeboat raised from the sea. A hook on a second cable gave way, and the lifeboat plunged about 65 feet into the sea landing upside down and trapping the crew members aboard underneath. The captain called for divers from the port, who arrived at the overturned vessel. Five crew members died and three were taken to local hospitals where they are recovering.
Mechanical failure could have caused the accident, but more diligence in the maintenance may have prevented it. Terry Dobbins, a passenger on the ship a week before the accident, made this comment about his observation of the safety drill then:
“The lifeboat was coming halfway down, then lurching to a halt. They were bouncing in mid-air. The winches were seizing up. It was really worrying.”
The Carnival Triumph experienced an engine fire while off the coast of Mexico on what was supposed to be a four day cruise. The ship’s automatic fire extinguishing systems quickly put out the fire and nobody was injured. It did leave the vessel adrift with no power or propulsion though.
At the beginning of their ordeal, passengers had no running water or working toilets. It’s a good thing cruise ships are well stocked with hand sanitizer! Over the course of their long slow journey under tow to Alabama most of the public restrooms and some passenger cabin’s bathrooms did become usable meaning they no longer had to use plastic bags. Odds are the crew was happier about that than the passengers, as they had to collect the used bags. Crew members likely worked very hard trying to keep the ship as clean as they possibly could, though they could do nothing about sewage leaking through walls.
Many passengers camped out on the deck to escape flooded rooms or the heat inside a ship with no air conditioning.
On a cruise ship full of food, why did this ship have short supplies and need deliveries from other vessels to keep the passengers fed? The answer to that, like all their other woes, lies in the lack of power. Giant freezers and refrigerators need power to keep the food cold, and the galley needs power to cook it. Cruise ships often even bake their own fresh bread daily rather than stockpiling packaged loaves.
Why Tow a Ship All The Way To Alabama Instead of Disembarking in Mexico?
In conditions such as those faced on the Triumph, why would they take the time to tow the ship all the way to a US port rather than letting the people off at the closest Mexican port they could tow a ship to? The answer to that lies with passports. People who did not fly across national boarders to embark on the ship may not have their passports with them. Passport cards and enhanced driver’s licenses work just fine for ID for those flying locally or traveling by land or sea to a number of international destinations. They don’t, however, work for international flights.
Keep this in mind whenever cruising. Not only is a passport necessary to fly home from a foreign country if the ship should have some sort of difficulty, but it could also be needed to get to the next port. Cruise ships routinely leave port at the scheduled time and inevitably people get left behind at port stops. If a passenger does not return to the ship on time, the crew may look in their room safe for their passport (so always keep it there if you don’t bring it with you). Carnival will have a representative meet passengers who missed the boat at the dock with their passport and help them along on their journey to the next port. I don’t know the policies of other cruiselines, but they may do so as well. There’s also the possibility of a medical emergency causing a sudden need to fly home. So the point being, always bring your passport when cruising!
Passengers onboard the Triumph likely felt like they had the vacation from Hell. No doubt they couldn’t wait to get off the ship. Some even kissed the ground as they left – something I would not recommend as kissing dirty ground where thousands of people walk with who knows what on the bottom of their shoes is a very good way to get sick.
On the bright side of the Carnival Triumph engine fire, nobody got injured, nobody died, and the ship did not sink. Carnival compensated the passengers well – refunding their cruise, providing travel arrangements beyond Alabama, and giving them a free future cruise and $500 each.
Often when something happens that causes bad press against a particular company its stock prices go down. Carnival gives onboard credit to those with 100 or more shares of stock each time they cruise, so for any avid cruisers looking for a way to save on cruises, watch the market and if the price takes a big enough temporary dive from this, it could turn out to be a good time to buy.
The question remains, Are Cruise Ships Safe? The answer is still yes. The passengers on the Triumph were quite inconvenienced, but well compensated for their ruined vacation. As for the Majesty, it was a horrible tragedy for the crew. No passengers were harmed in the Majesty’s disastrous drill. Even for cruise ship crew members the odds are still far greater of dying in an auto accident on land than on a cruise ship. We can only hope that such a horrible event as this unsafe safety drill will spur the owners of all cruise lines large and small to make more safety inspections of their equipment and insure prompt maintenance whenever needed.
Photo Credits: All photos on this blog are from the internet. The photo of the Thomson Majesty is from Daily Mail in the UK. The two carnival ones came from googling Carnival Triumph photos, the ship under tow is from the Christian Science Monitor and the camp on deck is from abc news.