Royal Caribbean’s flagship Voyager of the Seas is no ordinary ship. At 142,000 gross tons, she currently holds the title of the world’s largest cruise ship. Imagine the Eiffel Tower in Paris tipped on its side, and you have some idea of her length. With a capacity of around 1,800 crew and over 3,100 passengers, she can carry the population of a small town. Ships such as this have broken the boundaries of convention in terms of their concept, their design and their sheer size. IMO is undertaking a global consideration of the safety issues pertaining to large passenger ships, as the cruise industry giants vie for prestige and passengers.
Safety, of course, is a vital concern for passenger ship designers and operators. These vessels have the highest of profiles and their success could be undermined entirely if the public were to lose confidence in them. Although it cannot be denied that a number of incidents in recent years have indicated the vulnerability of these ships, it is also true that overall, their safety record is good. By and large, they avoid the worst excesses of the weather. Passengers demand that they should do so and a typical power installation capable of providing 25-knots enables them to outrun a hurricane. But while the modern cruise giants have the power and speed to dodge the weather, they are particularly vulnerable to fire. Every passenger is a potential ignition source and the hotel services clearly have an inherent risk.
A recent study highlighted the difficulty in safely evacuating some passengers, such as the elderly and injured, from lifeboats to rescue vessels. It is clear that the difficulties would not end, even with successful evacuation. Thousands of people, unfamiliar with ships and the sea, crowded into lifeboats and liferafts, would present a unique search-and-rescue challenge. What has now emerged is from IMO is a plan for a body of work that will constitute one of the largest ever investigations into the safety-related aspects a particular ship type ever carried out. The guiding philosophy of the work hinges on the following five elements.
- The regulatory framework should place more emphasis on the prevention of a casualty from occurring in the first place.
- Future large passenger ships should be designed for improved survivability so that, in the event of a casualty, persons can stay safely on board as the ship proceeds to port.
- The regulatory framework should permit alternative designs and arrangements in lieu of the prescriptive regulations, provided that at least an equivalent level of safety is achieved.
- large passenger ships should be crewed, equipped and have arrangements to ensure the safety of persons on board for survival in the area of operation, taking into account climatic conditions and the availability of SAR functions.
- Large passenger ships should be crewed and equipped to ensure the health safety, medical care and security of persons on board until more specialized assistance is available.