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In-depth | OPINION THEME FEATURE Fat is a maritime issue

Shocked by the catastrophe that befell Costa Concordia the maritime industry must now take stock and look again at some of its safety regulations and ask: “Are the expectations in these rules realistic?” Says Francis Chan, who is currently serving as a senior officer on a modern cruise vessel.


ho says size does not matter? Passenger ships are getting bigger every day. This means

more decks, restaurants, bars and facilities. It also means more places for large amounts of people to congregate which may be a long way away from the designated muster stations and the lifeboats’ embarkation deck. While safety experts insist in an emergency, the evacuation procedures of a 360m long vessel such as the Allure of the Seas with its capacity to carry 8500 souls is no different to a ship carrying one hundred persons, the recent capsize of Costa Concordia clearly shows otherwise. SOLAS Regulation 21, 1.3 states: “All required to provide for

survival craft

abandonment by the total number of persons on board shall be capable of being launched with their full complement of persons and equipment within a period of 30 minutes from the time the abandon ship signal is given aſter all persons have been assembled, with lifejackets donned.” While the Life-Saving Appliances (LSA) Code states: “Every passenger ship lifeboat shall be so arranged that it can be boarded by its full complement of persons in not more than 10 min from the time the instruction to board is given.” An ambitious notion, since it is not just the

dimensions of the vessels that are increasing; the size of the average passenger is too. Obesity is a problem affecting many western societies; it is from these very countries that the majority of passengers hail. Cruise vessels with a length of 289m typically utilise lifeboats having “a bums on seat” space of 150. Tis in essence gives four seconds for each person to enter the lifeboat, be directed to a seat and sit in an orderly fashion. While SOLAS takes into account the logistics of evacuating a ship, it does not factor in the human element. Having witnessed crew drills where the “fill

to capacity” lifeboat exercise is conducted, understandably, while alongside, in daylight, without any adverse weather conditions using a disciplined crew, of average weight, without


any disabilities, thanks to the requirement of having to pass the ENG1 or an equivalent Medical, the exercise still invariably manages to exceed the allocated time. Having to sit next to each other, literally

cheek-to-cheek, in an enclosed space is an uncomfortable one. To try and hope for the same results, under emergency conditions, when the ship may be listing, blacked out or affected by adverse weather conditions is idealistic. Filling a lifeboat in such circumstances in an orderly manner, with the 150 assigned people, some of whom may be disabled, obese, panicked or looking for loved ones are all scenarios that are not being taken into account. Also, if filling a lifeboat to capacity during

an exercise with a trained crew can take more than 30 minutes, surely a ship the size of the Allure of the Seas with its catamaran style lifeboats that can carry up to 370 people on two levels cannot hope to abandon ship in the SOLAS-stipulated 30 minutes of time. Royal Caribbean asserts the Schat-Harding made lifeboats for their Oasis class vessels, which are 16.7m in length, can be loaded both fore and aſt. Furthermore, since passengers can board them from its fixed positions, it makes for a speedy evacuation.

Bearing in mind that survival craſt are

designed to comply with the requirement of being able to be launched under all conditions of trim of up to 10 degrees and a list of up to 20 degrees, it means, each person has a mere 1.62 seconds under the most trying conditions to get into the boats and sit. Exceeding any of these parameters makes the outcome unknown. You don’t have to be a soothsayer to know

the sea is a perilous place. Cruise ships may give the illusion of being floating hotels, but they are like any other vessel at sea, vulnerable to the elements, human error and behaviour. Making them bigger in size with bigger lifeboats while not taking into account the human element of mass hysteria in a crisis is I believe, a great folly. Many captains of cruise vessels have

expressed the opinion that the Costa Concordia accident was one that was waiting to happen. Tey have serious reservations whether they would be able to evacuate a ship in an emergency in the given time. It might be too late to mandate changes in

the life-saving appliances for passenger ships already in service, but perhaps it is high time for SOLAS to be reviewed for the newbuilds of the future. NA

The Naval Architect March 2012

Do the safety precautions on cruise vessels create their own safety issues?

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