Wow, this has been quite a year for sinking ships! First, the Sea Diamond sinks off Santorini, Greece when the captain hit some rocks under water, and then the Explorer, operated by GAP tours, sink off of Antarctica. Two French passengers are still reported as missing from the Sea Diamond and are presumed dead, while everyone made it off safely from the Explorer, though some passengers had to be treated for exposure and mild hypothermia.
As an experienced cruiser, neither of the incidents have me switching to a land based vacation, however, they do serve as a good reminder of things that we should do as passengers to protect our safety.
- Know that even the most sea worthy ship could sink. By all accounts, the Explorer, a proven workhorse of a double hulled ice breaker should have been immune to sinking by ice, but even the most sturdy of ships can be punctured. Reports say that the water was coming in and the crew could not access the area of the hull that had been breached, so the hole could not be repaired. The water tight doors and pumps only seemed to slow the sinking to allow safe evacuation of the passengers, rather than preventing a sinking all together. Even the Sea Diamond, a relatively new ship could not stay afloat once its hull was breached.
- Know the safety record and reputation of the cruise line you are traveling with. Do some research, find out if your cruise company has had any major safety violations. Also try to find out how much attention to detail your line pays on every aspect of the cruise experience. More than likely, a cruise line that runs their kitchen, housekeeping, enrichment program and activities program in a first class way, will also pay as much attention to safety as well. In recent years, when there has been less than professional behavior by the officers and crew, the ships in question were often sort of “second tier” cruise lines that cut corners. Reports were that the Sea Diamond crew were less than professional when evacuating the ship. When I looked at the Sea Diamond’s web page shortly after the incident, I could see that they packed a lot of people onto a fairly small ship, and did not even offer full service dining, only buffet service. In the case of the Oceanos, which sunk off of South Africa in 1991, the line was using an older ship and an the crew actually made a mistake by cutting corners in a repair effort, which actually resulted in the ship taking on water. Then, many of the officers abandoned ship, leaving only the entertainment staff and low ranking crew members to evacuate the passengers. One survivor of the cruise said that she had booked the cruise because “TFC (cruise operator) advertised a really cheap cruise.” Luckily, during the recent Explorer incident, reports seem to indicate that the crew and officers were very professional and the the emergency evacuation was handled rather smoothly. The fact that their web site has been proactive about posting updates on the incident seems to indicate professionalism.
- Have an emergency plan for your group. Seriously participate in the ship wide muster drill. After that, discuss emergency plans with your group. Most cruise lines suggest that your plan should be to meet at your muster station. Most cruise lines have the kids wear bands at all times with their muster station on the bands. They will take your kids to the muster station so that you can meet them there. I have never had an emergency, but this does seem like it would work well as long as the children’s staff does their job. When you check your kids into to the program, find out if the program does an additional muster drill to have the staff practice with the kids. If your kids are old enough to find their way around the ship, have an additional family muster drill with each of you starting at a different place and then meeting at your muster station. This also might be a good idea if you are traveling with any elderly passengers in your group. That could help you determine if you would need to provide assistance to any of the older people in your group. Depending on the severity of the emergency, you may or may not have time to go to your room, so find out how to get a life jacket if it is not possible to go to your room. If you do have time to return to your room, you may want to have an emergency bag or two ready to grab. This would need to be small like a camera bag or a purse. You would probably want to have your camera, lap top, cell phones, pass ports, credit cards and cash in there. These are the things that you would most need when you reach dry land.
If you are interested in reading more about these incidents directly from the people involved in them, I’ve found the following sites that feature commentary from the passengers involved.