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BIGGER IS BETTER - NOT

A driving force


Underway


A "tender" Lifeboat



This has been quite an interesting day already. It started out this morning with my first cup of coffee and the morning paper here at NAUTICAL LOG. So far so good, then reading the paper, which in our case is "The Miami Herald", I get to Section C the Business section and headline 'World's Largest Cruise Ship'. Here we go again I thought and turned to page 3C, - well I have to admit the thing is huge! In this latest case the thing is MS "Oasis of the Seas" and she really is the largest. Before NAUTICAL LOG gets to its concerns about this vessel and they are many, lets have a look at her. Owned by Royal Caribbean International, Flag State Bahamas, trading in the Caribbean, cost US$ 1.4 billion - sounds like a bailout check/cheque - the first passenger ship over 200,000 GRT. Length: 361.8 metres, 1187 feet. Beam: 63.4 metres, 208 feet. Height: 72 metres, 236 feet above the waterline. Draft: 9.1 metres, 30 feet, quite shallow actually so as to have ease of entry - well relatively - into Caribbean and South Florida Ports. Decks: 16 passenger decks alone and with all the amenities of a Theme park or a Las Vegas hotel and then some. Speed: 22.6 knots (nautical miles per hour), 41.9 km/h, 26.0 mph. Now for it - the Capacity is 5400 passengers or with additional persons in cabin 6296 and a crew to look after them of 2165. That is for a possible total of 8461 persons - yes indeed 8461 persons!

Now maybe you know why NAUTICAL LOG is just a little uneasy about all this. As a former cruise ship Safety Officer one tends to think and plan for the time - hopefully never - all these 8461 persons have to be evacuated in an emergency. Clearly MS "Oasis of the Seas" is legally equipped to accomplish this but the problem is not the number of Survival Craft but getting the persons into them and moving off to a safe distance from the ship. So lets worry about it, lets look at some figures and studies that have been done by and for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

If one allows just 1 minute for each person to step from the Lifeboat Evacuation Point into the lifeboat, which hold 372 persons each, this accounts for 6696 persons leaving 1765 persons for rafts for the total 8461. Dividing by the number of Evacuation Points gives a fairly practical idea of how long the best evacuation time will be. For the 18 Lifeboat Evacuation Points it works out for a total of about 6.25 person/minutes. Please note this time is the EMBARKATION time taken only - NOT the total ABANDON SHIP time. The ABANDON SHIP time is from the sounding of the General Alarm Signal to complete evacuation of all persons clear of the vessel.

To this you will have to factor how many rafts are assigned per Raft Evacuation Point, as one raft is filled it must be lowered to the waterline, cast off, hoist recovered, next raft hooked up and the exercise repeated until all rafts assigned have been used. Is a picture beginning to form of what it will be like? Now NAUTICAL LOG counted nine lifeboats hung on davits on the Port side in the photograph so there will also be nine on the Starboard side. It really does not matter what the actual number is as there will be more than sufficient for all persons on board as required by the maritime law SOLAS. We have no information on the Raft evacuation system, it may well be aircraft style "chute and scoot" which will speed things up, if the passengers cooperate to slide down the 72 metres, 236 feet chute height listed in the ship details above. Like we said the ship has a Theme park design. However NAUTICAL LOG thinks it is unlikely passengers will be assigned to rafts and these will be used only by crew members. Each lifeboat will need 16 crew each for a total of 288 crew members assigned to handle the lifeboats.

The problems start with the arousing of everybody when the General Alarm is set off, then getting the persons to the Assembly/Mustering Stations, then moving them to the Evacuation Points, then boarding them into Survival Craft. Think about families separated, missing children, ADA passengers and keeping the quite normal panic in a situation like this under some control, these are persons in most cases who have never even been in a ship before. In addition you have language communication problems, alcohol and medication consumed to consider. Think of the reactions during 9/11 and let me tell you those folks were absolutely first class in their behaviour that day.

Now some points from studies; NAUTICAL LOG just quotes them and shall let you judge them for yourselves:

" A number of catalysts have brought passenger evacuation to the forefront of European shipbuilding priorities, triggering a need for the development of tools and procedures in support of performance based design for evacuation to ensure a cost-effective treatment of this important issue."

"Such consequences are bound to reach intolerable levels when addressing new concepts such as cruise liners carrying well over 5000 passengers."

" for example determine the behaviour of a mother searching for her lost child before abandoning ship, the father taking a leadership role in a crisis, the child following parents, members of a family forming a group and so on".

Above we addressed the issue of boarding the Survival Craft and allowed 1 minute per person. Clearly this is unrealistic and the results of some mustering exercises, with just 3492 fit persons, indicated the time taken was from 7 minutes to 28 minutes. However the time taken to empty the Assembly/Mustering Stations was consistent at 7 to 9 minutes which is very good to know - or is it? Of course they could have left the Assembly/Mustering Station to crowd up at the Evacuation Points fighting to get aboard a lifeboat or raft. The 7 minutes to clear an Assembly/Mustering Station does not match up very effectively with a possible 28 minutes at an Evacuation Point. The whole idea of the Assembly/Mustering Station is to control the flow to the Evacuation Points and prevent crowding up while launching Survival Craft. These exercises were conducted on vessels a fraction the size of MS "Oasis of the Seas" with its 8461 persons. Please note there was no breakdown in the Exercise Report of ADA and other passengers, their mobility or their knowledge of ships, rather it was a best case scenario exercise. No comfort to an experienced cruise ship Safety Officer whatsoever.

One should remember that unlike what was accomplished by the New York City Transit Officers getting people off and out of World Trade Center trains by alternate routes, there is only one way off a ship - by the Survival Craft down into the water.

So bigger is better - not. These vessels have gone beyond a practical safety level for passenger evacuation in spite of having dedicated, well trained Officers, Crew and Staff and believe me they are first class people.


UPDATE:
Monday 11/02/2009
There are a series of excellent short and effective videos about MS "Oasis of the Seas" at www.oasisoftheseas.com/. Included is the simulator training Officers receive at the STAR Center, Dania, FL. Also amongst these videos you will see one with CAPT. William Wright explaining the vessels lifeboats which were designed especially for MS "Oasis of the Seas". With the ship very well explained the website is worth a visit.

UPDATE:
Tuesday 11/03/2009
Text reviewed and edited to incorporate Lifeboat data received this morning. Still awaiting Raft data.

Good Watch

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