Mega Cruise Ships: Tragedies Waiting To Happen?

I just got back from Miami, and one of the impressive sights is the port-huge, enormous cruise ships departing and returning-a lot of port activity.
Yet, I wonder how safe these new giants are? I think there is a huge potential for an accident, that would kill thousands:
-Fire: those opn atriums-with staterooms opening into the opens space-a fire could spread, and the updrafts could cause the whole interior of the ship to burn
-Wind: those enormously high superstructures must catch the wind-if a strong wind (from a microburst thuderstorm), the ship could capsize
-Collision at sea: the crews on these floating hotels are poorly paid conractors. they are not about to standby and help the passengers into the lifeboats-they would probably panic and be the firts to leave
In short, I wonder how safe these ships are-I suspect that one day, there will be an accident, with a huge death toll.
After this, there will be an investigation-and it will be found that these things are deathtraps.
What do you think?

I think it is likely they have considered these possibilities and prepared for them in a manner which has reduced their dangers to a large degree.

Of course, the corporations that own them could be risking multi-billion dollar liability and not have made the slightest degree of disaster planning. But I think that less likely.

No need. Unsinkable.

Don’t worry. Cruise ship have already been deemed

"a giant, floating symbol of everything that is truly god-awful about America."

Ever actually been on a cruise ship? Each corridor has multiple doors to contain fire and water from spreading. Think of the relative weight of superstructure versus the part of the ship at or below the water line. I don’t think anything outside a hurricane is going to be a problem, and ships avoid them.

Ship builders have learned a little bit since the Titanic. I’d think disease spreading on board is more likely to be a problem.
Or enraged natives of poor destinations. :stuck_out_tongue:

As long as we go to sea in ships (or fly in planes, or drive ground vehicles faster than a walk), the potential exists for accidents to happen. (Titanic, Andrea Doria)

These super liners cost hundreds of millions to build and operate. No one will willingly risk that investment (or the lawsuits) by gambling with safety.

The ship designs will have been gone over by engineers (and models wave tested in tanks). There is a whole arcane art to calculating metacentric height and stability, I am reasonably certain those things were calculated for something like the Oasis of the Seas, and taken into account by the operators.

As far as “poorly paid contractors”, I suspect that stuff varies from company to company, but again, I don’t see serious risks being taken with these huge investments.

Are you making an assertion that the industry as a whole is shoddily run, or, rather, making a claim that, someday, in the future, some ship will run into trouble?

It is worth pointing out, since the poster didn’t, and since it purports to quote actual officials, that this link is to The Onion.

I don’t really know how trustworthy this web site is (, but if it is, the requirements to have an actual “sea-type” job are pretty much the same as any other ship. Given that the captain is pretty much where the buck stops on a ship, I’m guessing they don’t give these jobs to just anybody.

For example, the job requirements for the captain:

Captain (responsible for the entire operation of the vessel). Captain’s licenses and all applicable certifications by a recognized maritime government body required. Extensive experience with minimum five to eight years in subordinate positions on board ships and solid experience in all navigational electronic and computerized equipment required. Diploma from an accredited maritime training school or facility and fluent English Language skills required.

Sure, there’s a lot of “people time” as the captain of the cruise ship, but depsite that the captain really, actually is in charge of everything.

So far as I’m aware, massive cruise ships have been around for at least my whole life (i.e. the last 30-some years). And yet, I can’t think of a single one having sunk nor blown up.

I came in to llink the Onion story, which I loved, btw.

I don’t suppose this qualifies as a massive cruise ship but -

MTS Oceanos was a French-built and Greek-owned cruise ship which sank off South Africa’s eastern coast on 4 August 1991.

" The Oceanos was in a state of neglect, with loose hull plates, check valves stripped for repair parts after a recent trip, and a 10 cm (4 in) hole in the “watertight” bulkhead between the generator and sewage tank." Well so, lesson learned: Ships which seem ready to sink, may well sink.

Of course, everyone on the ship still survived.

Thanks-this is a good example. The captain of this seagoing accident and his officers were amonth the FIRST to abandon ship! The bandleader stayed on board and organized the evacuation of the passengers-the capatin’s reaction? “I gave the order to abandon the ship…so there was no need for me to stay on board”-really courageous of you, “captain”!

It is clear that there is no absolute safety. Accidents are possible and will happen. In new ship types, there is always a possibility that some new type of problem has been over-looked. Still I’m confident none of the OP’s problems were, at least in design phase, since they are the most central in traditional design and classification process and a larger ship would naturally fair better in all of these.

Ships (except some e.g. war ships) need to fullfill the requirements of Safety Of Life At Sea. This has extensive rules about particularly compartmentation, both for fire and under-water damage. In addition, an overwhelming part of ships get insured and certainly all new passenger ships. They have to get a certification of one of the classification societies like Det Norske Veritas, Lloyd’s or American Bureau of Shipping. The documentation needed is quite extensive. ( As one of my collegues put it, if you have an elevator you need a certificate, if you have a ship elevator, you need a file of documents, if you have an offhore platform elevator, you need an elevator full of documents.)

Now the problem of ships keeling over in high wind is typically a loading question for any given ship. If the centre of gravity is too high, it won’t be stabile enough to take the effect of the wind. The wider the ship, the higher the COG can be. One of the easy things in passenger ships is that the cargo is so light (particularly the ladies) compared to the ship structure. Unlike many cargo ships, the captain can’t harm the ship by bad loading. Small over-loaded passenger ships can capsize because everybody stacked on the highest deck, but for an ocean-going cruiser that’s impossible. And there is no wind that could make the new post-panamax cruises keel over. A question of waves is a bit more interesting. We don’t know what is the upper limit to the height of a single freak wave. But making the ship incredibly wide makes it safer in this respect too.

The first cruiser with large atrium I know of was Carnival Fantasy. I think the fire hazard involved with that was the most important novelty of the project. The large areas are difficult to deal with, but it can be done and it has been part of the industry for 20 years. I don’t remember any accidents were atrium had played a large part, probably because the compartmentation works. A bigger ship will have more space for passengers to move into, so the problem is essentially local and for the passengers in other compartments a bigger ship is safer.

Which brings us to OP’s last point, evacuation. I think the new types due to their size would need to be evacuated in fewer cases and in lower pace. The question of personnel quality is a good one, but you would expect the new company flag ship to be well-operated.

All in all I think these new cruisers are safer than driving a car and way safer than driving a new car. Now, taking in Indonesia or Philippines a ship that was totally safe in the Caribbean 30 years ago, that’s an entirely different matter.

It’s worth noting the timeline of the Titanic:

23:40 - Iceberg collision
00:45 - First lifeboat lowered
02:00 – Waterline reaches forward boat deck
02:05 – Propellers exposed
02:20 – Titanic’s final plunge

Which is to say, there was roughly two hours worth of time to organize and flee the ship. I suspect that if there had been enough lifeboats aboard, everyone or near everyone would have made it off just fine.

These ships just don’t sink fast.

Let’s also point out the Bismarck, which was bombed, shot, and torpedoed fairly nonstop for something like 12 hours, and at the end of that time it sunk because the crew scuttled it, not because enough damage had been inflicted to sink it.

Ship building technique is actually pretty good.

Actually last Feb we pulled out and passed through a cat 2 or 3 hurricane level storm on the way down to the Caribbean. It was not a hurricane per se, it just had the wind speed without the cyclonic effect. We did have 40-50 foot waves. Remember the snow storms of the time?

It wasn’t a gigantic floating hotel like the cruise ships the OP’s thinking of, but the ‘cruise ferry’ MS Estonia sank in the Baltic in 1994 with the loss of 852 lives. It was a very large RORO ferry whose bow doors failed in heavy weather, so regular cruise ships can’t suffer the same problem.
Subsequent reports led to improvements in passenger ship safety…

When I was a kid, we went on a 3 day cruise on the Yarmouth Castle out of Miami. It couldn’t compare to today’s mega-cruise ships, and many of its amenities and practices look bizarrely backward to modern eyes (the swimming pool was only filled when the ship was in port – that seemed weird even then), but it was a “luxury” cruise ship.

A couple of years afterwards it caught fire and sank. It made world news, and it was featured with a several-page spread in Life magazine.
So, yeah, these cruise ships can sink, and I was on one that later did.

wikipedia entry, with pix:

Yeah, we don’t really have RORO (roll on, roll off) ferries over here, as far as I know. Nowhere to go in them. Maybe on the Great Lakes.

I’d certainly feel safer on a modern mega-cruiser than on something like the Achile Lauro. Crashed, hijacked, and eventually caught fire and sank (though over 50 years).

I’ve been on a numbe of cruises (I’m not sure you have) and I have some points:

– The staterooms generally do not open directly onto the atrium. They open onto corridors which can be closed off from the attrium easily.

– The crew are, for the most part, well trained in emergency evacuation procedures. Near the beginning of every cruise is a lifeboat drill which every passenger must participate in. We practice putting our lifejackets on, congreggating at our muster stations, and making our way to the lifeboat stations, under the guidance of the crew.