(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2017 edition.)
From January/February 2017 Edition
Ensuring passenger safety is the industry’s first responsibility.
Maritime lore is littered with infamous shipwrecks of passenger ships – the Empress of Ireland, the Titanic, the Lusitania and the Andrea Doria, to name a few. More recent incidents include the MV Explorer in 2007 and, of course, the Costa Concordia in 2012.
The MV Explorer, with 154 persons on board, hit an iceberg in a remote Antarctic location and sank within 20 hours, thankfully without any loss of life. In January 2012 the Costa Concordia, with 4,229 persons on board, grounded and capsized on the rocks of Giglio Island in Italy, resulting in 64 injured and 32 dead. According to the official report of the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure & Transport, despite sailing in favorable conditions the Costa Concordia came too close to the coastline and collided with the rocks due to the “Master’s unconventional behavior.”
While there was loss of life in one of these incidents, it could have been much worse in both cases. For the MV Explorer, another nearby cruise ship rushed to the scene and picked up all the passengers, who had been in lifeboats for five hours watching their ship slip beneath the frigid waters. For the Costa Concordia, the proximity to shore kept much of it above water and facilitated rescue operations with some passengers jumping off the ship and swimming to safety.
Beyond the tragic human costs and related settlements with survivors are the loss of the ship’s value and the salvage expense for owners and insurers. The follow-on cost to remove the Costa Concordia has been estimated at $1.2 billion. Last year’s annual report of the International Group of P&I Clubs cited the two-year effort to remove the Costa Concordia as “undoubtedly the most complex marine salvage operation ever undertaken, and one which generated the largest claim faced by the Group and its reinsurers.”
Taking the lead in seeking improvements was German company Fassmer, run by the fifth generation of the Fassmer family and a major supplier of lifeboats to the cruise industry.
In the aftermath of Costa Concordia, stakeholders initiated corrective actions. Within two weeks the main industry group – the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) – initiated a safety review that resulted in several policy changes including improvements to passenger musters, vessel passage planning, and life jacket stowage.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) instituted a new regulation that required newly embarked passengers to muster prior to or immediately upon departure. IMO also adopted a number of voluntary recommendations that were closely aligned with the new policies adopted by CLIA.
The U.S. Coast Guard, while lacking flag-state authority over most cruise ships, monitored the new initiatives. Although the new IMO muster regulation did not go into effect until January 2015, the Coast Guard began witnessing passenger musters as part of its mandatory vessel examination program as early as February 2012, a month after Costa Concordia.
The Coast Guard has also been active in exercise scenarios related to cruise ship evacuation and rescue. In April 2013 it worked with industry and the IMO to conduct the Black Swan Exercise off Freeport in the Bahamas, the largest and most complex simulated rescue in the history of the international maritime community.
On the equipment side, improvements include lifeboat design and release systems. The Italian investigation criticized the Costa Concordia captain and crew for slow decisions, including delays in abandoning ship until the vessel was listing badly, which made it difficult to deploy the lifeboats. Although the lifeboats met all standards, they proved inadequate for the occasion.
Taking the lead in seeking improvements was German company Fassmer, run by the fifth generation of the Fassmer family and a major supplier of lifeboats to the cruise industry. The company surveyed its customers and industry experts and adjusted the release-and-recovery mechanisms on its lifeboats to make them easier to operate. “We try extremely hard to eliminate the possibility of human error in our design,” says Tim Klaybor, Managing Director of Fassmer Service America. “Fassmer’s in-house research and design departments are constantly striving to meet and exceed the special requirements of the cruise industry through cooperation with IMO and government authorities.”
While fire was not an issue with the Costa Concordia, it remains a constant threat. Fire not only endangers lives but can cause extreme passenger discomfort when it results in a loss of power.
How common are such fires? CLIA contracted with U.K.-based industry expert G. P. Wild (International) to analyze five years’ worth of cruise ship incidents. The resulting “Report on Operational Incidents, 2009 to 2013” showed that the industry experiences an average of 5.2 fires per year with two being minor and 3.2 being significant. The analysis defined “significant” as resulting in a delay of more than 24 hours in the ship’s scheduled itinerary or a serious injury or fatality to a passenger or crew.
Fire hazards made up nearly half the deficiencies found during a recent five-year period of Coast Guard inspections of cruise ships. In 2011 the most common deficiency was improper stowage of combustibles. In 2012 it was the improper operation of fire screen doors. Coast Guard officials said most of the deficiencies are corrected on the spot or within the allowable time frame. However, in a recent newsletter the Coast Guard’s Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise again highlighted fire issues, noting a number of marine casualties due to fires in engineering spaces.
In an issue of Proceedings of the Marine Safety and Security Council, the Coast Guard Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy noted that “Fires aboard the Carnival Splendor, Carnival Triumph, and Grandeur of the Seas highlighted concerns about fire safety equipment design, maintenance and operation.” Its investigation of the fire aboard the Carnival Splendor off the coast of Mexico found deficiencies with the firefighting strategy, actions and training, as well as the fire suppression system itself.
Although there were no fatalities and the crew extinguished the fire, the vessel lost all power for propulsion and hotel services. A commercial salvage company towed the vessel back to San Diego with the passengers still aboard. According to the Coast Guard, Carnival has since modified that class of vessels so that a single localized fire could not result in a complete loss of power.
Concerns continue over the automatic sprinkler systems use to suppress fires. In June 2015, the IMO amended its circular on the maintenance and inspection of fire protection systems and appliances to note that the manufacturer’s maintenance and inspection guidelines should be followed. Highlighting the frequency of system failures, the U.K. Maritime and Coast Guard Agency in December 2015 issued Safety Bulletin No. 4 on automatic water mist sprinkler systems. The report stated that “In recent years there have been several publicized failings of automatic water mist sprinkler systems identified during routine testing. In the worst cases, greater than 50% of the installed automatic nozzles have failed to activate.”
“There are several amendments covering the maintenance and inspection of water mist, water spray, and sprinkler systems,” says Erik Christensen, Global Technical Solution Manager at Wilhelmsen Technical Solutions. He explains that, whether choosing a new system or maintaining an existing installation, owners should be aware of the differences between systems and their operational profiles. “Water mist systems have different configurations, components and pressures. Hence they have different maintenance requirements in contrast to sprinkler systems, which are quite similar regardless of the make.”
An increase in Coast Guard detentions of foreign-flagged vessels due to inoperative water mist systems underscores the importance of having such systems fully checked and in satisfactory working order.
A critical factor in fire safety is the training of firefighting crews, states Denise Jones, Director of the Resolve Maritime Academy in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cruise lines are major clients for the academy, which is convenient to both Port Everglades and PortMiami, the world’s two largest cruise ports. Among other features, the academy boasts a live fire-training simulator that is 140 feet long and four decks high.
Jones says the Coast Guard is driving the demand for more training with requirements for mandatory recertification every five years, a deadline recently extended by six months: “The demand for revalidation training is so high we are running courses seven days a week, and our Fire Group has added additional courses.”
Some cruise lines go beyond the minimum requirements, adds Clifford Charlock, Fire Group Manager at the academy. “Some of the lines want Resolve to train not just the individual firefighters but whole crews together. The crew is one of the first groups off an arriving ship. They can come to the academy for a full day of intense training and be back on the ship for evening departure. In selected cases, Resolve will do the training on the cruise ship itself, so they train in the familiar environment where they would actually have to fight a fire.”
BY STEPHEN L. CALDWELL
Stephen L. Caldwell is a member of the National Maritime Security
Advisory Committee and a frequent contributor to The Maritime Executive.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.