Today's cruise ships are being built larger and larger and, following a series of disasters at sea, lawmakers are wondering if their increasingly massive size is to blame.
For example, according to a The New York Times report, in 1985, the Carnival Holiday, was a 46,000-ton ship; in 2003, the Queen Mary 2 was triple that size; and, in 2013, two of the largest ships are 225,000 tons. In 2012, The Cruise Lines International Association said its North American cruise ship lines carried some 17 million passengers, which is more than double the 7 million its cruise lines carried in 2000.
The largest ship today is the Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas, which can hold 6,300 passengers and 2,394 crew and is outfitted with 2,706 rooms, 16 decks, 22 restaurants, 20 bars, 10 hot tubs, a shopping mall, a casino, a water park, a half-mile track, a zip line, mini golf, and what the Times described as "Broadway-style live shows."
Last Year, Carnival Corporation's Costa Concordia capsized off the Italian coast, killing 32 people. The fatal accident revealed significant issues with safety and emergency. Earlier this year, a fire on the Carnival Triumph left the ship without power and stranded in the Gulf of Mexico for days and a fire on the Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas forced the vessel back to shore, the Times reported.
"Cruise ships operate in a void from the standpoint of oversight and enforcement," James E. Hall, safety management consultant and chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board between 1994 and 2001, told the Times. "The industry has been very fortunate until now." Regulators and lawmakers seek greater accountability and safety experts have expressed concern over the size of today's cruise ships.
Although cruise line operators argue that the larger ships have increased fire safety equipment and are actually safer, not everyone agrees. In fact, this summer, Senator John D. Rockefeller IV (Democrat-West Virginia) introduced legislation to increase federal cruise safety procedures and consumer protection oversight.
Experts say that larger ships face large challenges. "Given the size of today's ships, any problem immediately becomes a very big problem," Michael Bruno, dean of the engineering school at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey, and former chairman of the National Research Council's Marine Board, told the Times. "I sometimes worry about the options that are available."
While ship size worries some, it is the colossal size of the organizations behind the vessels that are most worrisome to many. Issues with engine maintenance, fire safety records, fire drills, how cruise operators handle incidents, the efficacy of today's evacuation procedures, the crew-to-passenger ratio, language and communication issues, lifeboat size, and high crew turnover rates, appear to be getting lost in the simply immense size of the companies responsible for those ships, the Times pointed out.
Carnival, noted Forbes, boasts 102 ships moving 10 million passengers with 90,000 staff both on land and offshore. The cruise line has 10 subsidiaries and each of those has its own CEO-in addition to the parent company's CEO. More than the size of the ship, it is the size of the corporation that creates huge logistical challenges that could adversely impact crisis prevention and management.
"The simple problem is they are building them too big and putting too many people aboard," Captain William H. Doherty, a former safety manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines and current director of maritime relations at the Nexus Consulting Group, told the Times. "My answer is they probably exceeded the point of manageability ... The magnitude of the problem is much bigger than the cruise industry wants to acknowledge."
- The New York Times; Too Big to Sail? Cruise Ships Face Scrutiny; by Jad Mouawad; October 27, 2013; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/28/business/too-big-to-sail-cruise-ships-face-scrutiny.html?_r=1&F
- Forbes; No, NYT, Ship Size Is Not What Ails Carnival And The Cruise Industry; by Caleb Melby; http://www.forbes.com/sites/calebmelby/2013/10/29/no-nyt-ship-size-is-not-what-ails-carnival-and-the-cruise-industry/