Monster cruise ships embrace leaky safety strategy

When it comes to cruise ships, is bigger really better?

Consider Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, which is currently under construction. At 227,000 gross tons with 2,747 cabins for 5,479 passengers, she’ll be the world’s largest cruise ship when she enters service next may.

She won’t held the title for long. Larger ships are already planned.

There’s just one small issue: The larger the ship, harder it is to evacuate passengers and crew during an emergency.

Can it be done? That’s a call the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has to make — and, regrettably, this organization is failing in its responsibility for the safety of those at sea.

It is a disgrace that in 2015 cruise ships do not have sufficient lifeboats for those on board, while all other ships do. The fault for this and the often outdated and inadequate safety equipment on board lies with this organization and the delegates that too often put other interests ahead of those they are supposed to protect.

Interestingly, the 20 million passengers who sail on these ships have no representation at the IMO. That’s right, you, the passenger has no voice in the organization.

The IMO could point out that there is nothing to prevent any flag state from enhancing the safety requirements for the ships under their flag. But with flag states competing by selling their financial attractiveness to the owners, and the economies of some small states dependent on these ships, enhancing the requirements is unlikely.

The ship is the lifeboat?

In a cynical move, obviously hoping to sidestep their responsibility for the current state of affairs with regard to the lifeboats, the IMO recently advocated the phrase, “The ship’s a lifeboat,” claiming this as a “new” idea.

Did they forget that the Titanic designers and owners also had that idea over a hundred years ago?

Everything that floats can, given the right circumstances, sink. That applies to ships, regardless of their size or glossy claims. Ice can still slice through a ship’s hull like a knife through butter.

Fires, which are more frequent than they should be, can grow out of control. Collisions and groundings still occur, and even, as we have seen recently with the loss of the U.S. container ship, , in the Caribbean, just the sea and weather can sink ships.

For these reasons, lifeboats are and will always be required.

Not only the design and number of lifeboats, but also the embarkation systems, can and must be improved. But this can only be accomplished through legislation by the IMO. At present, this organization is not capable of supporting these essential improvements.

How to fix it

IMO is an outdated and self-serving organization dependent on delegates who have forgotten the founding principle of the safety of life at sea. It urgently needs an external audit and either a dramatic change in the way it functions or a complete replacement of it to give us a legislative safety body for the 21st century.

Until then, we’ll have to make do with unfit legislation and the complacent attitude that everything will be “alright on the night.”

There once was a complacent company called the White Star Line, which had an equally complacent captain. This is what 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…”

— Captain Edward Smith, RMS Titanic.

Is the ship a lifeboat?

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