In the recent past, some cruise ships have had a series of safety problems which could affect the health and well-being of the passengers and crew. Engine room fires have resulted in a loss of electricity, functioning toilets, air-conditioning, and preparation of hot food, and the ships have even had to be towed into port. From January 2009 to March 2013, seven cruise ships ran aground. Propulsion problems, collision with piers, maintenance problems, engine problems, electrical panel problems, plumbing issues, and cabins with toilets that would not flush occurred on 21 cruises from March 2009 through April 2013. There were 353 incidents involving mechanical problems and accidents from January 2009 to June 2013.
Best Practices to Avoid and Mitigate Safety Risks
- • The ship design, equipment, and training of the crew must be such that the ship can be abandoned in the event of a major disaster without loss of life or injury. This can be accomplished when the captain or his designee determines to “abandon ship” and the following actions are taken: the crew immediately goes to evacuation duty stations to assist passengers; proper signs are installed for passengers to go to the specific stations; emergency lighting is provided; smoke detectors are provided throughout the ship; all passengers are trained in emergency measures and families are kept together; the crew is trained to deal with the rolling of the ship, darkness, severe weather conditions, fire and smoke, and especially in helping the elderly, disabled, intoxicated, and special needs passengers.
- • Provide handholds in all areas for passengers to prevent falls.
- • Alcohol consumption, which is a substantial money maker for the cruise ships, must be limited when passengers seem to have imbibed too much.
- • Enforce a “no alcohol” policy for all crew members with random testing.
- • Design the ships or retrofit older ships so that the lifeboats are readily accessible and the muster station near the lifeboats has adequate space for people to assemble.
- • Each muster station must have a comprehensive first-aid pack and a defibrillator plus individuals who have been trained to use the equipment.
- • Re-evaluate the space requirements needed for people to be seated in lifeboats and life rafts, and recalibrate the number of individuals who can be put on each of the boats based on current average weight and average height of men, women, and children. Provide adequate space for disabled individuals.
- • Advise all passengers that they must bring warm clothing aboard the ship in case they have to abandon ship.
- • Lifejackets must be distributed properly, efficiently, and rapidly and help should be available for individuals, especially those who are disabled and are having trouble putting them on.
- • Double hulls should be required for all the new large cruise ships.
- • Use appropriate navigation lights which are not masked by the light in the cabins and on the decks.
- • Provide more than enough lifejackets in conveniently located areas that will properly be sized for each person aboard the cruise ship. The lifejackets must be approved by the US Coast Guard. (See endnote 22.)
- • Provide adequate numbers of lifeboats supplemented by appropriately constructed life rafts to accommodate all passengers and crew and piloted by specially trained crew members. There should be at least three crew members, who are not entertainers, on each lifeboat and at least one crew member on each life raft.
- • All officers involved in the actual operation of the ship should wear uniforms that easily distinguish them from hotel staff.
- • Use acoustic hailing devices that provide communication throughout the ship to help protect the cruise ship from terrorist attacks.
- • Secure all heavy objects either permanently when not in use or during heavy weather.
- • Cruise ships operating from US ports should have accident investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board as a condition of using the ports.
- • The United States Coast Guard without advance warning should conduct safety inspections. (See endnotes 20, 21, 22.)
- • Observe new policies established by the Cruise Lines International Association to improve cruise ship safety including: Passenger Muster; Personnel Access to the Bridge; Excess Lifejackets; Common Elements of Musters and Emergency Instructions: Lifeboat Loading for Training Purposes; Harmonization of Bridge Procedures; Location on Lifejackets Stowage; and Securing Heavy Objects. (See endnote 23.)
- • In case of passengers falling overboard, provide special systems for all cruise ships which will detect falling objects by their heat temperatures and record their image as well as sound an alarm. The passengers must be brought together at their muster point and the lifeboats be put in proper position so that all individuals know what to do in the event of a disaster aboard the ship.