HAMBURG – Since the Costa Concordia disaster in early 2012 cruise ship safety has become a major topic in public debate. When one of these gigantic vessels gets into trouble, the number of people who need to be evacuated is equivalent to the population of an entire village. If worse comes to worst, evacuation has to be accomplished at night, in bad weather, and as rapidly as possible.
International requirements exceeded
Safety on board cruise ships is a key topic at Seatrade Europe from 24 to 26 September at the Hamburg fair site. There can be no doubt that the safety standards in the cruise industry are high. In response to the Concordia incident, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), the world's largest cruise industry association, tightened its safety requirements, initiating the so-called "Global Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review" (OSR). "As a result we have introduced numerous new safety directives, each of which goes beyond the existing, strict international regulations. All CLIA members have adopted the new rules," says Michael Ungerer, President of AIDA Cruises. "The Operational Safety Review is another step in our long-term efforts to achieve continuous improvement and innovation in ship safety and on-board operations," says Christine Duffy, President and CEO of CLIA.
Another regulation governing safety on board cruise ships will be 100 years old this November. The so-called SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) convention was introduced in 1913 in response to the Titanic disaster. According to the current SOLAS rule, standard lifeboats or tenders in "lifeboat mode" should not carry more than 150 passengers. IMO requires an embarkation time of 30 minutes or less for all 150 passengers.
However, some modern lifeboat designs can accommodate higher numbers of passengers. For example, custom lifeboats with a capacity of up to 300 passengers were developed for Norwegian Cruise Line's "Norwegian Epic". Building a single tender or lifeboat takes up to 40 days, depending on size and outfit. The time span from order placement to delivery of a full set of lifeboats for a cruise ship is more than two years.
Shipping companies and shipyards are currently inspecting their fleets and enhancing safety levels. Carnival Cruise Lines, for example, will invest roughly US$300 million to upgrade the safety systems on board all of their 24 ships. In particular, the fire safety and fire fighting systems are being modernised. Additional measures are being implemented to increase the technical independence, also referred to as redundancy, of the two separate engine rooms.
Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri has traditionally been a supporter of innovative safety solutions. In its 200-year company history, Fincantieri, today one of the world's largest shipbuilding enterprises, has constructed more than 7,000 ships. "Hull 6231", the most recent cruise ship order received by Fincantieri, will be a true state-of-the-art vessel, equipped with a complete hospital including modern treatment rooms, an intensive care unit, a chemist's shop and a medical laboratory. To ensure effective monitoring and communications throughout the ship, a fibre optic cable network will be installed, enabling loudspeaker announcements, alarm signalling and integrated IP video surveillance.
Safety technology plays a critical role on board: "Cruise ships are equipped with leading-edge navigation systems, capable of scanning the sea bottom with centimetre accuracy. This allows the shipmaster to identify obstacles instantly," says Stefan Jager, President of European Cruiser Association (EUCRAS) e.V. headquartered in Wiesbaden, Germany. His conclusion: "Your trip by car or aeroplane to the ship boarding port will be more hazardous than the cruise itself."
The German automobile association ADAC has arrived at a similar assessment: Last year the highly renowned organisation inspected safety on board a total of ten cruise ships owned by leading operators. Two ships, AIDAbella and AIDAdiva of AIDA Cruises, received ADAC's highest score of "Very Good". All other cruise ships were found to be "Good", the second best mark out of five. "All vessels inspected featured state-of-the-art safety, rescuing and fire protection technology. In most cases their crews proved to be professional and experienced during emergency drills," the test report states.