Learn about the most recent innovations in cruise ship safety, facts, most common safety issues. This is a cruise ship technology related survey, and is integrated with our articles on passenger ships building and propulsion.
Follows the link to the cruise ship safety act (in pdf format) on GPO.gov (the US Government Printing Office website). The document's official title is "Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act" (issued 2010).
Cruise Ship Safety
Construction techniques concerning cruise ship safety today are far from the methods used for building the notorious RMS Titanic ship. In 1912, marine vessels have been pieced together in small dockyards by teams of skilled men, which was real labor-intensive affair - and a slow process.
Cruise ship safety regulations
According to the latest cruise vessel safety act regulations, passenger ships must have:
- Navigational aids (echo sounder, AIS, ECDIS, radar), Voyage Data Recorder and DGPS precision position finding equipment. Also communications by satellite, VHF and GMDSS
- EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).
- Welded and compartmentalized cruise ship construction (including modern fire containment systems). The vessel's bridge must be designed to facilitate best all-round visibility.
- Enclosed lifeboats and rafts with full crew and passenger capacity (to accommodate all passengers and crew on board, plus spare capacity). Also mandatory are the emergency immersion suites (inflatable life jackets) for all passengers and crew.
- Up-to-date weather forecast system (including hurricane tracks, iceberg locations tracking (also calculating the iceberg's drift pattern), storm warnings.
- Helicopter pad (typically located on the bow of the ship) for emergency rescue and long range casualty evacuation services.
- Mandatory are also the passenger information system, crew training in emergency procedures, and the safety drills.
Cruise ship safety changed the shipbuilding industry
Modern shipbuilding uses many innovations in construction, such as prefabrication, welding, and computer-aided design. The shift to prefabrication together with the innovations of welding (providing higher quality compared to riveting), have improved cruise ship safety.
Europe was the shipbuilding's center in the Titanic era. It was buyer and employer of raw materials. Shipyards at the turn of century, had molding areas, platers' sheds and iron works, plumbers, joiners, blacksmiths, French polishers, cabinet makers shops, fitting out docks, shipbuilding berths. Most part of the built was made on site. Europe lost shipbuilding dominance a hundred years later, because of the cheaper Asian shipyards, specifically South Korea, China and Japan.
After the change in the shipbuilding hub, a change in shipbuilding techniques was inevitable. Today, the biggest part done at shipyards is just assembly, but not pure construction. Contemporary vessels arrive in prefabricated sections at dry-docks only to be welded together. Shipbuilder are likely to assemble several consecutive ships.
Cruise Ship Safety by Fixing Position
However, may be the most important progress needed for improving cruise ship safety through navigation of ships was made in the last quarter of 20th century: the GPS (Global Positioning System).
The GPS is used by cyclists and hikers along with drivers and merchant ships. In 2010 the GPS and the DGPS ("differential" enhanced version) relied upon positioning of thirty-one satellites, and this fact is remarkable for the global scale and position-fixing precision of GPS systems. Not dependent on location or weather, they are easier, cheaper, more precise and faster than anything before. DGPS is accurate within 1 sq.meter in optimal conditions.
Satellites also improved communication and cruise ship safety. Titanic's radio range was just 200 ml (320 km). Today shipboard personnel can remain in touch 24 hours a day with those ashore, no matter in which part of the world the ship is sailing. When the Titanic was created, this was possible only if a vessel was close by, transmitting from one ship to another, and in case the radio officer was at his monitoring station. Titanic's first transmitted distress messages were missed by nearby Carpathia just because her radio officer was on bridge.
Situational Awareness and Cruise Ship Safety
Bridge hardware evolves constantly. Among its newest pieces are AIS (Wiki) - Automatic Identification System and ECDIS - Electronic Chart Display and Information System. AIS helps ships identify other vessels, and be identified by shore stations and ships. It also helps officers watch track objects in order to predict their actions. The received by AIS data on position, speed, course, and unique identification, is displayed on separate screens or ECDIS. The Electronic Chart Display has more benefits: access to any chart, automatic chart updating, effective interface with radar/ARPA - automatic radar plotting aid. For a concise review of the marine vessels AIS equipment and how it works you also can see our cruise ships tracker.
Advances in forecasting and weather monitoring have also enhanced cruise ship safety. This has a key role in routing - the science (and art) of developing best routes for ships based on ship characteristics, weather forecasts, ocean currents, cargo requirements. The main purpose is to find best balance and minimize fuel consumption and time of transit without placing the ship at risk to crew injury or weather damage.
Design Innovations for Cruise Ship Safety
Design advancements have also improved passenger ships safety. For most of history, ships' design process was "trial-error". Design innovations were incremental and relatively conservative. Many principles of modern vessels' design were established by the twentieth century. Ship stability was understood largely. Vessels were compartmentalized in order to slow flooding and improve aid evacuation.
Contemporary computers further contributed much to cruise ship safety. Computer analysis and modeling replaced tough calculations on structures, hydrodynamics and stability. Design of ship can be modified to temper risks when identified.
Structure design and hull weren't the only elements improved drastically over the past century. Bridge innovations also played key role for ship safety. In 1912 Titanic had navigational aids that were few and typical of the period - chronometer combined with Nautical Almanac reference.
Ship's position couldn't be pinpointed precisely during daylight hours because location was only determined using stars' positions.
Modern bridge removes the need of guesswork and improves cruise ship safety - extremely innovative high-tech environment. The gyrocompass replaced Titanic's compass, and finds 'true north', not the magnetic one. It also made autopilot possible. High frequency radios today allow ships broadcast distress calls and safety information, contact other ships in proximity, inform port authorities when needed. Depth finders warn modern ships of potential for grounding by utilizing echo sounding, and play key role for development of more accurate sea-charts.
Radars obligatory requirement under International Convention for SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea) has moreover revolutionized navigation. Watch officers can anticipate obstacles and hazards before they can really see them. This, combined with ARPA to replace manual plotting of ship movements, has improved the speed and accuracy of plotting and also enhanced situational awareness of the officers who keep navigational watch.
The technological advancements have reduced navigation risks radically and have thus improved cruise vessel safety, since Titanic's days. Undoubtedly, there is more to come, as the knowledge of marine environment is being enhanced further in the future.
New cruise ship evacuation system
In March 2016, the Viking Ocean Cruises line introduced a new cruise ship evacuation system replacing the traditional lifeboats. The new high-capacity system represents a lifeboat-liferaft hybrid called "LifeCraft".
The LifeCraft system allows quick mass evacuation of the ship with guaranteed maximum safety for its passengers and crew. The system consists of the following elements:
- A launching unit, which is positioned either on deck or is built in the hull. It contains up to 4 LifeCraft vessels.
- stowage, loading stretchers
- Survival crafts (LifeCrafts) which are inflatable and self- propelled vessels with high maneuverability. Each of them has passenger capacity of 200 and is powered by 4 engines.
- Passengers enter the crafts through chutes. Once full, the crew releases the craft and navigate it to a safe location where it waits for the rescue teams.
Air Quality on Cruise Ships
In January 2017, the German Environmental Association NABU (Naturschutzbund Deutschland) issued a survey on air quality onboard cruise vessels. The survey warned that on larger-sized ship it's more likely passengers to inhale polluted air than a fresh sea breeze.
Onboard measurements of actual air quality onboard were way worse than expected. They were done by a cover French TV journalists (from France 3 channel) conducted on a Mediterranean-based cruise ship leaving from Marseille.
Measuring results show that shipboard passengers are exposed to high concentrations of harmful substances, the levels of which surprised even the environmentalists. After the ship left Port Marseille, air pollution was measured roughly 200 (TWO HUNDRED) times that of an urban street during heavy traffic. Besides fine dust and soot, burning large quantities of of marine diesel and heavy oil also produced high doses of nitrogen oxides and heavy metals.
Most of the largest cruise line companies have done in recent years significant fleetwide upgrades to their older ships. Among the newly installed technologies are the scrubber systems (aka Chemical Scrubbers). These are expensive air pollution control units used to remove some particulates and gases from the ship's exhaust streams. However, statistics show that 4 of 5 vessels are not equipped with any exhaust gas cleaning devices. Since modern technical solutions to reduce particles and NOx emissions are long present on the market, not implementing such technologies is largely due to greed. It cost money to install them, and furthermore requires the shipowner to use more expensive fuel.
The European Lung Foundation (ELF) recommended several years ago that travelers with chronic respiratory diseases should only stay only on certain parts of the ship's open decks to avoid breathing in the exhaust. In the same time, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that marine diesel exhaust is just as carcinogenic as asbestos. The ultrafine particles can get into the smallest pulmonary alveoli and from there into the blood stream.
In June 2015, Carnival Corporation announced the company's contract with the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to build four LNG-powered cruise ships with the industry's largest passenger capacity. This is part of the order with Meyer Werft and Fincantieri for a total of 9 new ships to be built in the period 2019-2022. The four new cruise ships will be the industry's first LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) powered vessels using LNG in their hybrid engines. The gas is stored on the ship and used to generate all the power while at sea. The new Carnival ships' engines are not exclusively LNG-powered, but "dual fuel" (capable of burring both liquid marine fuel and natural gas). This design is for saving onboard space (reducing fuel storage space that is required).
The new fuel eliminates all the bad emissions - soot and sulphur oxides. In April 2016 MSC Cruises announced its contract with STX France for up to four LNG-powered ships with GT over 200,000 tons each. For comparison, Oasis of the Seas is 225,000 GT tons. The new MSC ships have 5400 passengers capacity at double occupancy each. The first one is scheduled for delivery in 2022. Its power plant will be based on a new prototype engine.
In November 2016, Port Barcelona presented its "Air Quality Improvement Plan" - an initiative aiming to reduce bad emissions from port activities. The document involved 25 actions rolled out in 53 operations. Among the most representative actions are promoting the LNG fuel (liquefied natural gas) as an alternative for both marine vessels and road freighters. The policy offers discounts for cleaner ships and replacing the port's service fleet with electric vehicles. According to statistics, port activities produce 7,6% of the city's average NOx concentrations annually, and 1,5% of the fine particulates. Promoting LNG-powered ships, terminal machinery and trucks is one of the plan's highlights. LNG fuel cuts NOx emissions by 80% and eliminates sooth, particles and SOx emissions. The environmental discounts are on port fees. Currently, the law allows max 5% port fee discount for environmental reasons.