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Caribbean nations consider their readiness for a cruise ship accident

Feb 27, 2013 7:31 am

Skift Take

These are all good questions to be asking, as is the question of how the financial benefits gained at cruising ports of call are or aren’t funneled back into improving islands’ infrastructures.

— Jason Clampet

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Handout  / Reuters/NBC

The cruise ship Carnival Triumph cruise ship is towed in this video frame grab from NBC News taken off the coast of Alabama, February 14, 2013. Handout / Reuters/NBC


Another cruise ship drifts helplessly, again. In considering risk assessment for Caribbean nations in relation to cruise ship emergencies, let’s do the math. Nearly 60 percent of the world’s cruise ship fleet is in the Caribbean from November to March each year.

Over 40 percent of the world’s cruise ship fleet is owned by Carnival Corporation (Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Princess, P&O, Holland America, Seabourne, Aida and Ibero cruise lines). At least four major incidents have occurred in the last 27 months on that company’s ships alone.

Let’s consider just two of many potential Caribbean disaster scenarios, based on the fact that three of Carnival Corporation’s cruise ships have each drifted helplessly for approximately 90 miles.

If a ship leaving or returning to the busy cruise home port in Barbados loses all propulsion and steerageway, when west of that island, wind and current might very likely make it drift the 90 miles to the wild and rocky east coast of St Lucia — with huge risk to human life, to the marine environment and to the country’s tourism based economy.

If a ship leaving or returning to the principal Caribbean cruise home port in Puerto Rico experiences the same situation, when south-west of Anguilla and St Maarten, a 90-mile drift could take it to the pristine but dangerous reefs of the Virgin Islands.

Unlikely? No — very possible based on recent events. Engine room fires on the Carnival Triumph, Carnival Splendor and Costa Allegra and a flooded engine room on the Costa Concordia — after a severe collision with a rock — all resulted in a complete loss of propulsion and no ability to steer the ship.

While these incidents may raise questions about ship maintenance or navigation standards — and may influence safer design of cruise ships in the future — the Caribbean, in the meantime, has to live with huge ships built to these current design specifications with their self evident inherent risks.

That takes us to the issue of disaster planning for major cruise ship incidents in the Caribbean and the emergency resources currently available.

Some of the recent incidents in Europe and near the US coast have had the full benefit of well resourced coast guard and tug boat services although, even then, powerful tugs were clearly struggling to maintain course and minimal speed with Carnival Triumph’s sheer size in the latest case. In the Indian Ocean, the Costa Allegra ended up precariously under tow by a small fishing boat!

In Caribbean waters how fast can powerful tugs and other suitable rescue vessels reach a stricken cruise ship in order to avoid disaster?

Most cruise lines today operate under a world-wide minimal tax structure but there is now considerable pressure in the U.S. Congress to force them to make a real contribution towards the costs of all of the federal services they benefit from in the United States.

Caribbean governments should be pressing now for similar greater financial assistance from those massive companies, which currently exploit the region’s beauty and facilities at minimal cost.

Surely, at least, cruise lines should be contributing directly to improved marine disaster management resources for the Caribbean, while they identify and implement solutions for their own serious problems.

(c)2013 the Caribbean News Now (Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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