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Concerns as cruise ships grow ever more enormous

November 1, 2013 Cruise, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Ships are getting bigger and bigger as cruising becomes ever more popular.

This doesn’t make everyone happy, however. Safety experts are voicing concerns that the supersize trend entails risks, with huge ships having fewer options in an emergency.

“Cruise ships operate in a void, from the standpoint of oversight and enforcement,” James E. Hall, a safety management consultant and chairman of the US National Transportation Safety Board between 1994 and 2001, told the Boston Globe. He added that the industry has been “very fortunate until now”.

The world’s biggest ship currently is Royal Caribbean International’s Allure of the Seas, which carries an astonishing number of people: 8694 in all, consisting of 6300 passengers and 2394 crew. Allure boasts 2706 rooms, 16 decks, a shopping mall, a water park, a casino, a running track almost a kilometre long, a zip line, mini golf, an ice-skating rink, 12,000 living trees and plants, Broadway-style live shows, 22 restaurants, 20 bars and 10 hot tubs. Sister ship Oasis of the Seas is only fractionally smaller.

Now, Royal Caribbean is going even bigger again. It has just cut the first piece of steel for its third Oasis-class ship, marking the first construction milestone for a vessel that, at approximately 227,700 gross registered tons, will be the world’s largest cruise ship. Royal Caribbean says it will also be the most innovative. The cruise line expects to receive its third Oasis-class ship in mid-2016.

RCCL (1)

Royal Caribbean International cuts the first piece of steel for its third Oasis-class ship. Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Richard D. Fain and Royal Caribbean International President and CEO, Adam Goldstein together with Laurent Castaing, chief executive officer, STX France, attended the event at the STX shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France, where the ship will be built. The cruise line’s third Oasis-class ship is expected to be delivered in mid-2016.

Although the latest Oasis-class ship will be just two and a half tons bigger than its two Oasis-class predecessors, it highlights just how large ships are becoming.

In 1985, the year Neighbours first hit Australian TV screens, the 46,000-ton Carnival Holiday was one of the biggest cruise ships afloat. Queen Mary 2, which is three times bigger than that, took the title 10 years ago of biggest cruise ship. Today’s vast ships eclipse those. Royal Caribbean’s existing Oasis-class ships, 225,000-tons, are about the same, in displacement, as one of the biggest US aircraft carriers.

Big ships have suffered several accidents recently. Costa Concordia’s capsize off Italy was the most notorious. In February, fire crippled the Carnival Triumph, stranding thousands without power for four days in the Gulf of Mexico in foul conditions with tent cities on the deck and sewage running down the walls.

Another fire forced Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas to a Bahamas port in May.

In 2010, Carnival Splendor broke down after a fire in the engine room. That cruise became known as “Voyage of the Spammed” because stranded passengers were reduced to eating Spam dropped to them by US Navy helicopters shuttling from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

The head of the United Nations agency in charge of marine regulations, the International Maritime Organisation, warned way back in in 2000 of the growing hazards of building ever-larger ships.

As one expert interviewed by the Boston Globe put it, “Given the size of today’s ships, any problem immediately becomes a very big problem”.

There’s another side to the story, of course. Cruise operators say big ships are actually safer.

Carnival, for instance, instituted fresh safety features and procedures after that “Voyage of the Spammed” cruise on Carnival Splendor three years ago. It says the new precautions helped with the rapid detection and suppression of the fire on the Carnival Triumph.

Following the Costa Concordia tragedy, Royal Caribbean Cruises chief executive, Richard Fain, told Britain’s Financial Times that large cruise liners were just as safe as smaller ships. He said they were easier to evacuate in an emergency (because they have more exits and entrances), and more popular with holidaymakers.

Another important point is this: passengers have a choice. With plenty of classic, older and smaller cruise ships around, and other vessels ranging from boutique-size expedition vessels to mid-sized alternatives, cruise-lovers can opt for mega-ships, or they can choose smaller, quieter and more traditional vessels.

Written by : Peter Needham

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