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This question is not only of interest to those of us associated with the marine industry.  I’m sure that the non-marine folk who are, or want to be, cruise passengers would also like to know.  As it stands, the question is too vague.  ‘How much bigger can cruise ships safely get?’, would be more relevant to me.  Especially if I was considering a big-ship cruise.

When I came across the question and began doing some research, because I have been on a few cruises and have an opinion about it, I found a significant spread of varying viewpoints.  For example, opinions given by people who work in the marine industry tended to express the same concerns as non-marine people.  For the mega cruise vessels, they include; getting around a huge vessel; long delays when going on tours ashore; reduced number of accessible ports-of-call; greater necessity to make restaurant reservations.  However, most of them also mentioned their apprehension about safety.  Especially, referring to the biggest vessels for example, the practicalities of how 2,300 crew members can disembark 6,780 passengers, many of whom will be disabled, elderly or infirm, into whatever lifesaving facilities are provided.

Theoretically, everyone on a stricken vessel would be expected to work together safely, effectively and efficiently, so that, in this scenario, all 9,080 lives are saved.  Could it be achieved in reality?  Who knows?  My research referred to all sorts of influencing circumstances that would affect the final outcome.  They included the weather conditions, time of day/night, sea state, vessel location, type of vessel malfunction/accident/incident.

I’m guessing that everyone knows about the Costa Concordia accident in 2012.  The cruise ship was carrying over 4,000 people, including passengers and crew, of which 32 died and 64 suffered non-fatal injuries.  There are reports implying that due to the way the ship landed on the rocks, some of the life-saving equipment could not be utilised.  There was also one significant incidence of cowardice but also many acts of bravery by crew members, which must be highlighted and commended.

More recently, the cruise ship Viking Sky sent out a mayday signal as it drifted in rough waters in the Norwegian Sea, to within 100 meters of land, due to the failure of all 4 engines.  There were 1,373 people on board, including passengers and crew and during the rescue operation 479 people were air-lifted, one-by-one, to safety ashore, by helicopter.  Many of them were senior citizens.  Some passengers were injured with things like bruising and broken bones, about 12 were hospitalised but there were no fatalities.  One official commented that it was very nearly a major disaster and would have been, if the vessel had run aground. The consensus from passengers was very high praise for the crew members, quoting bravery, commitment and professionalism and also for all of the Norwegian rescue services involved.  Although it was a daunting, horrific experience for most passengers, some are reported as looking forward to their next free trip with Viking as part of a compensation package.

I am not being a doom merchant castigating the cruise industry.  I am sure every passenger who goes on a cruise is aware of the potential dangers and what may be involved if they have to abandon ship, in the worst-case scenario.  That is what the Boat Drill is all about.

How do these concerns affect cruising?  The facts seem to indicated that they don’t affect it at all. Currently the cruise industry is booming and has been for a decade or more.   We all know the risks when we travel or go on holiday, no matter what method of transportation we use.  All 4 of Viking Sky’s engines stopped at the same time: it was very serious and scary and it could have been worse.  Fortunately, the end result was that out of 1,373 people, nobody died.  If it had been an aeroplane in flight and all 4 engines stopped at the same time, we all know what the consequences would be.

As far as my headlined question is concerned: I guess that factors such as; the limited number of destinations that are able to successfully entertain 7,000+ visitors en masse; moving around the vessel with ease and in comfort; the provision of more-than-adequate safe and effective life-saving methods and equipment, will eventually cap the maximum cruise ship size at a total compliment of circa 12,000 people, including passengers and crew.

All of this has not put me off cruising but my personal choice, because of my age and somewhat relaxed lifestyle, means that I won’t be considering the mega cruise vessels that are primarily designed for families.
JHL MBE SSL Co. Chairman