|IMO - International Maritime Organization|
• In your experience, are some cruise lines more stringent about safety procedures than others? Or are cruise lines especially concerned about passenger safety as a matter of routine?
The most stringent cruise lines are the ones who call in U.S. ports, because U.S. Coast Guard takes safety very seriously, and if for any reason you get a demerit, or are required to fix something by the Coast Guard before they will allow you to sail then you have a heap of trouble.
So, cruise ships that regularly visit and sail out U.S. ports are the safest because our Coast Guard is the most strict when it comes to safety.
• A UN agency called the International Maritime Organization governs passenger shipping around the world. Does this organization have rules regarding emergency procedures on cruise ships? Are ships required to conduct safety drills for passengers, and to instruct passengers on the proper use of life jackets?
Yes, the IMO has specific rules about cruise ships. The organization just created the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) 2010 mandate that took effect on July 1, 2010. SOLAS has specific recommendation on lifeboats, such that they must be gravity controlled and self-releasing. Also, that the number of seats on life boats must exceed the total number of people a ship can carry – passengers and crew – and that they must be able to be evacuated in 30 minutes or less.
• In addition to the drills, do ships have minimum requirements about safety gear? Are they required, for example, to have a certain number of lifeboats available? If so, is the number of lifeboats determined by the size of the ship, or the number of passengers the ship is capable of accommodating?
Yes – a ship must have more than enough seats for everyone onboard – it's determined by total passenger & crew capacity. In general, ships have far more seating than they need, but the extra seating also comes from life rafts – as you see the Concordia used when many of the lifeboats were not available.
• What kind of emergency training do crew members receive? Is there a certification process? What kinds of procedures are in place for emergencies? Does every crewmember have assigned responsibilities in the event of an emergency?
There is an approximately two-hour class given to everyone on how to use fire extinguishers, life vests and how lifeboats and raft davits work. They get instruction on basic CPR as well.
Every crewmember has to participate in every passenger lifeboat drill, however many they schedule per cruise. In addition, every month there is a crew only lifeboat drill where they actually send some boats down to the water to test the davit systems. About every six months this crew lifeboat drill will be monitored by the Coast Guard.
One good way for crewmembers to get training on driving lifeboats is the fact that many times lifeboats are used as ship tenders – to get people to and from shore. So many crewmembers have practice in driving and steering life boats.
In addition, in every crew drill one or two of the boats will be lowered so the crewmembers can get inside and get familiar with being in a lifeboat.
• On international cruises, can language barriers be an issue when relating emergency information?
Absolutely – of course it is an issue because it takes time to relay the same information in 5 languages. That is one reason why I always recommend booking a cruise on lines that specialize in your native language. There were so many nationalities on Concordia – they always use Italian, German, French, Spanish and English in that order, but there were also Koreans, Portuguese from Brazil, Arabians and Indians.
Another problem was that 696 people had not been drilled yet, because they had just boarded in Civitavecchia and the ship was going to board more in Savona the next day – they were going to drill them all at once. They were still within the 24-hour limit for that lifeboat drill.
• Do cruise ships have "black boxes," similar to those on airplanes, that record relevant information, including voice communications?
Apparently they have 2, since I just heard they found the second one on Concordia. I knew they had one, and now I know they have two.
• The Costa Concordia was capable of carrying 4200 passengers. Is there concern that as cruise ships get larger, safety becomes more difficult to maintain?
The newest, largest cruise ship in the world, Oasis of the Seas, can carry over 6000 passengers and 2500 crew, but steps have been taken to improve safety procedures. For example, on Oasis of the Seas the life boats are already on deck five (not six) – and they are much higher capacity, several hundred people.
The boats do not have to be pushed out and lowered to deck five for lowering, they are already in position to go down. Plus they have 30 boats with a 370 passenger capacity for each of them. The boats have a catamaran hull design, twin engines and propellers, and an internal PA system to ensure proper communication and direction to all occupants.
Oasis of the Seas also features a new mustering procedure that was created to take into account the ship's overall design and traffic patterns. During the muster procedure, guests are to report to their dedicated assembly area where crew members will give them a lifejacket and provide information during the mustering procedures, as well as instructions in the case of a real emergency. An electronic mustering system is implemented via guest SeaPass cards, allowing for real time accountability of all guests and crew to the evacuation command teams.
• What about the cruise ships themselves – what features do they need to pass "muster?"
Ocean-going cruise ships of U.S. registry must meet a comprehensive set of Coast Guard safety regulations and be inspected annually by the Coast Guard to check for compliance. The safety regulations cover such things as hull structure, watertight integrity, structural requirements to minimize fire hazards, equipment requirements for lifesaving, firefighting, and vessel control, and requirements pertaining to the safe navigation of the ship. If the ship passes its annual inspection, it is issued a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection valid for one year. The certificate must be displayed where passengers can see it.
The Coast Guard has the authority to require correction of any deficiencies before allowing the ship to take on passengers at the U.S. port. The records of these examinations (called Control Verification Examinations) are open to the public at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office (MSO) which conducted the examination. To do a search for a specific vessel, contact the Port State Information Exchange web site at: http://psix.uscg.mil.
• What about Crewmember Competency? What kind of certification does an official safety officer on a cruise ship need?
On U.S. passenger vessels, licensed individuals and crew must meet standards for experience and training set forth in Coast Guard regulations. The Coast Guard can revoke or suspend the individual's license or merchant mariner's document for acts of misconduct or incompetence. On foreign-flag cruise ships trading in the U.S., SOLAS requires the vessel to be sufficiently and efficiently manned. The officers' licenses and the vessel's compliance with manning standards are checked as part of the Control Verification Examination.
• How often are life boat drills held?
The timing and frequency of the drills depends in large part on the length of the voyage. On voyages that will last more than one week, the first drill will be held before the ship gets underway (passengers who embark at the last minute sometimes miss this drill), with additional drills at least once a week thereafter. On voyages of one week or less, the drills must be held within 24 hours after leaving port.
• What other requirements are out there?
Coast Guard and international regulations also require a notice to be posted conspicuously in each passenger cabin or stateroom on the inside of the door. The notice explains the following: How to recognize the ship's emergency signals (alarm bells and whistle signals are normally supplemented by announcements made over the ship's public address system); the location of life preservers provided for passengers in that stateroom (special life preservers for children will be provided, if necessary, by the room steward); instructions and pictures explaining how to put on the life preserver; and the lifeboat to which passengers in that stateroom are assigned.
• How are regular crew members used during a muster drill?
When fire and lifeboat drills are held, crew members from the stewards department are generally responsible for assisting and directing passengers in the drill. Direction signs showing the path to reach lifeboats are posted in passageways and stairways throughout the ship. The crewmember in charge of each lifeboat will muster the passengers assigned to that lifeboat, and give passengers any final instructions necessary in the proper method of donning and adjusting their life preservers. If there is any portion of the emergency procedures the passenger doesn't understand, they should question the crew until the instructions are clear and completely understood.