Fire at Sea - 2006
In 1907, Capt. Edward John Smith was inspecting ship construction at The Harland and Wolff shipyard. As he gazed over the myriad of workers scurrying about on the behemoth he said "I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that." Five years later, on April 10th of 1912 Capt. Smith took the helm of his ship for it's maiden voyage with 2223 people on board. After a decade of planning and construction the fated Titanic sailed for just four days before sinking in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, taking 1517 souls with it.
Today's floating cities continue to garner similar vibrato from the cruise industry. As we watch commercials, read advertisements and discuss details with our travel agents we are told of the ship's majesty. We are aroused and enticed by the unending images of paradise as it glides across calm waters to exotic ports of call. We are told to leave our worries behind as we cruise the waterways of the world.
One hundred years later losses at sea continue, highlighted this week by the sinking of Carnival's Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy. Again we are hearing stories of a crew with more false confidence than concern for their passengers, resulting in the deaths of 32 who entrusted them with their lives.
Disasters at sea have plagued the cruise industry recently. In 2005 the 302 passengers aboard the Seabourn Spirits were the target of Somali pirates who were saved from a perilous fate by the quick thinking and heroic actions of the captain and his crew. Unfortunately that was not the case with the case with 23 other vessels hijacked by pirates between March and November of that year.
The year 2005 was especially noteworthy in the cruise industry because it was the first time widespread coverage had been given to a phenomenon that has plagued vessels at sea since the dawn of time known as a "rogue wave". These waves occur, not during storms or in the aftermath of earthquakes, but in normally calm seas. Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a wall of water appears that can reach more than 100 feet in height. Ships crews have just seconds to react before these rogue waves wash over the ships.
On April 16, 2005, just of the South Carolina coast, the 965 foot cruise ship Norwegian Dawn was returning to New York from the Bahamas when it was suddenly overwhelmed by a series of three 70 foot high rogue waves that battered passengers as high as the tenth deck. The jolting and rolling took their toll on passengers as well as the ship itself forcing Norwegian Cruise Lines to detour the ship to Charleston where those injured were hospitalized and the ship underwent emergency repairs.
In 2006 another cruise danger was highlighted when Daniel Dipiero went missing from Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas. The subsequent FBI investigation discovered that the passenger was most likely inebriated and had lean over the deck rail to throw up when he rolled over the rail and fell to his death at sea. The FBI ruled out foul play by viewing the ship's surveillance video that clearly showed he was alone when he went over. It was determined that the railing, which was at standard height for cruise ships, was inadequate in height, allowing passengers to place their center of gravity over the railing and in danger of rolling over it. The deck rails on cruise ships are often placed lower than the optimal height for practical safety so that they don't block passenger's view.
Passengers aboard cruise ships are not immune from the same predators we find on land. They are often the victim of robbery, burglary and assault. But on September 14th, 2007, "Jane Doe #2" joined the long list of victims that are sexually assaulted while at sea. She was a passenger on Carnival's Miracle enjoying the calm seas and blue sky as she settled at the pool with some friends. At 4:15 that afternoon she was served a drink by the ship's staff. After just a few sips she became disoriented and ultimately rendered unconscious. Her friends took her to her cabin and left her to rest for the night only to find that she had been assaulted by morning.
While this became a broadly known incident at the time it was not the first of it's kind and sexual assaults on cruise ships continues to be prevalent among young single female passengers believing they are in a safe place. In 2009 a 14 year old was reported as being raped aboard the Carnival ship Freedom by a 30 year old Carnival cruise line employee while cruising the Caribbean. (source: InernationalCruiseVictims.org)
Mark Gaouette, a former head of security for Princess Cruise Lines and author of the book, "Cruising for Trouble," said passengers often will have a false sense of security once they step onto cruise ships. "There's a party atmosphere on a cruise ship," he said. "The passengers don't believe that there's any real issues or dangers to their safety until a serious crime occurs." Gaouette added that cruise ships don't have enough security onboard. "Sexual crimes are probably the No. 1 reported on cruise ships," he said. "The great majority of these crimes are committed by crew members."
In 2007 we learned that Legionnaire's Disease continues to be a risk factor for cruise passengers. Reports go back to 1984 when it was dubbed "sick boat syndrome". Since then, and despite the industry's awareness, passengers continue to develop respiratory infections directly attributed to the air conditioning systems on these ships. The 2007 incident took place on the 583 foot M.S. Black Watch. In total 7 passengers contracted the disease. Passenger Robert Heath succumbed to the infection and expired shortly after returning home.
Far more frequent than Legionnaire's Disease on cruise ships are food borne illnesses. Who doesn't remember the images from the Celebrity Mercury in February of 2010 when 350 passengers and 27 of the crew on a Caribbean cruise took ill and required hospitalization for what the CDC determined were two separate outbreaks of the norovirus on the ship.
Shipboard illness has become so prevalent that it is strongly reccomended that all US cruise passengers purchase travel insurance. You should be sure it covers illness and mostly that it will cover the cost of a medical transport back to a US location. Without it you may just find yourself in a third-world hospital with significantly lower standards than are typical in stateside facilities.
Fires at sea are another danger of cruising as was made apparent by the engine room fire on the Carnival Splendor in November of 2010, subjecting passengers to "three days of hell". Leaving the ship without power, passengers were subjected to conditions that left them without toilets for 13 hours and nothing but Spam to eat, delivered courtesy of the US Navy. Conditions were appalling by the third day, reminiscent of the residents of New Orleans relegated to the Astrodome in the wake of hurricane Katrina with a pervasive stench of waste and bags of vomit were everywhere. A newlywed Sabrina Klinge texted to her father,"It was supposed to be this beautiful cruise and it turned into a nightmare".
But some fires aboard cruise ships did more than limit passengers to smelling vomit and eating Spam. Since 1980 there have been more than 35 fires on cruise ships resulting in hundreds of deaths and many more injuries. Between 1999 and 2010 there were 14 bombs and fires on Carnival cruise line ships alone. (source:www.cruiseshipfires.com)
When we watch the commercial, read the advertisement and speak to our travel agents we get the images of fun in the sun. Never mentioned are the dangers faced on the high seas, and in foreign ports of call. As Americans we have a feeling of invulnerability and we take that with us when we travel. It is unfortunate that so many have found how vulnerable we really are to fires, disease, pirates, forces of nature and even those employed on the very ships we sail. The cruise industry has experienced double digit growth built on the illusion of safety. Just ask the passengers of the Carnival Costa Concordia how they feel now. - Jackson Record staff writer