Statistically, cruising is largely a safe venture - the likelihood of passing away aboard a cruise ship is about 1 in 6.25 million. Even if any mortality is too many, recent research shows that cruising is still one of the safest ways to travel and enjoy leisure time. However, failures in emergency responses, engineering, or seamanship, are lingering issues. Throw in treacherous weather conditions and far-distant locations, and a disaster is not an impossibility. Just recently, due to heavy fog, the Norwegian Sun cruise liner collided with a tiny iceberg (growler) while sailing through Alaska. The remainder of the cruise had to be cancelled and thankfully no one was harmed.
Cruise ship catastrophes, despite their rarity, attract sensationalist global media attention when they occur and can cost cruise ship businesses millions of dollars in lost income. Cruise ship accident data is not prolific, but from available statistics, there have been 448 'major' cruise ship accidents since 2005. Between 2000 and 2019, a reported 623 cruise ship passengers and crew died in these accidents.
It should be noted that more than 20 businesses operate 323 cruise ships across the world, and these ships have a combined passenger capacity of more than 540,000. The overall number of passengers and crew members killed aboard a cruise ship each year, although not insignificant, pales compared to the number of people who embark each year.
Furthermore, cruise companies take numerous preventive measures, exchanging faulty boat parts and running various drills. It significantly lowers the risk of a potential cruise ship disaster.
Let’s examine what we have learnt about cruise disasters in terms of causes, and how current technology can avert future tragedies.
Communication and radar
A ship's radar is one means of detecting other ships and avoiding collisions. Radar, however, isn't perfect. In crowded regions, systems have been shown to perform less successfully and are vulnerable to extreme weather. Crew members getting preoccupied with onboard instruments, causing them to lose sight of what is occurring on the surrounding seas, is a contributing factor in certain incidents.
According to the IFT Transport Outlook 2019, marine commerce demand might quadruple in the next 30 years. So, ships must be communicating and locating themselves correctly. A Japanese company, Fujitsu Laboratories, employs artificial intelligence (AI) and big data technology to calculate vessel collision risk. Operators can proactively discover and prioritize boats in danger using risk values estimated by Fujitsu's technology. This will aid in preventative planning while also providing boats with correct information.
Weather monitoring and rerouting
Technology has also become much more sophisticated in terms of weather forecasting. WRI, for example, have a team of marine meteorologists to suggest routing and forecast conditions with continuous monitoring of high-resolution model data, RTOFS ocean current data, ASCAT/SSMI satellite-derived wind analysis, land/ship/buoy observations, and Global Data Assimilation Systems (GDAS).
Royal Caribbean International has a 35,000-square-foot operations center, the first of its kind in Southern Florida. It is staffed 24/7 and features a 74-foot-long video wall with 57 LED screens that display the status of all of the line's 27 ships, including weather, itinerary, and safety updates.
Sometimes, a ship has no option but to meet bad weather, such as while crossing the North Atlantic in the fall. Even under these situations, ships seek the calmest part of the water. If bad weather is inevitable, the cruise line may vary your schedule. The ship may land at a different port, rearrange the sequence of the ports on the itinerary, or seek a sunny place at sea. Cruise lines are experienced in dealing with these circumstances and inform passengers of the possibilities and their strategies for dealing with them.
State-of-the-art equipment has turned the tide against potential cruise ship disasters. However, we can never completely let our guard down; cruise ships should constantly be looking for further innovations to keep passengers safe.