First paragraph of the article:
One of the largest cruise ships in 1985 was the 46,000-ton Carnival Holiday. Ten years ago, the biggest, the Queen Mary 2, was three times as large. Today’s record holders are two 225,000-ton ships whose displacement, a measure of a ship’s weight, is about the same as that of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier.
So we have an answer: no, they aren’t “too big to sail”, since the Nimitz-class ships seem to be working just fine.
More seriously, the article is the usual naval gazing about whether cruise ships have become so big that the safety of passengers can’t be guaranteed. This seems to be more of a question about ship design, crew staffing levels, and safety equipment.
Although most have not resulted in any casualties, the string of accidents and fires has heightened concerns about the ability of megaships to handle emergencies or large-scale evacuations at sea. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat of West Virginia, introduced legislation this summer that would strengthen federal oversight of cruise lines’ safety procedures and consumer protections.
I was going to say something snarky about how accidents and fires at sea don’t exactly encourage customers to come back, and about how much damage the “poop cruise” did to Carnival’s brand. But, while you can see a dip in the stock in February, it looks like they hit their 12 month low point just a few days ago, and I can’t tie that to any specific event.
Today’s biggest ship, Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas, has 2,706 rooms, 16 decks, 22 restaurants, 20 bars and 10 hot tubs, as well as a shopping mall, a casino, a water park, a half-mile track, a zip line, mini golf and Broadway-style live shows. It can accommodate nearly 6,300 passengers and 2,394 crew members — the equivalent of a small town towering over the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. It measures 1,188 feet long. Its sister ship, the Oasis of the Seas, is two inches shorter.
Mini golf? I am there, man. (Doesn’t it seem kind of odd that a cruise ship would have mini golf, while mini golf courses all over the country have been closing? I realize that land is probably more valuable for purposes other than mini golf, but as big as these cruise ships are, isn’t their real estate limited as well?)
This is my favorite part:
One result was a set of new global regulations in 2010 called the Safe Return to Port rules. Those require new ships to have sufficient redundant systems, including power and steerage, to allow them to return to port even in the worst emergency. Only about 10 ships built since then comply with this new rule.
“The idea is that a ship is its own best lifeboat,” said John Hicks, the vice president for global passenger ships at Lloyds Register, the largest ship classification society. “The idea is to do everything to keep the crew and passengers on a vessel.”
“A ship is its own best lifeboat.” Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes:
The lack of lifeboats was the result of a combination of outdated maritime safety regulations and the White Star Line’s wish to leave the decks unobstructed so that the passengers could have better views, as well as give the ship more aesthetics from an exterior view . In addition, it was believed that in the event of an emergency, Titanic’s design would enable her to stay afloat long enough for her passengers and crew to be transferred safely to a rescue vessel. It was never anticipated that everyone would have to be evacuated rapidly at the same time.
(Yes, I know I’m citing Wikipedia, but that’s just because that’s the first reference I can easily lay hands on. The argument that lifeboats weren’t needed because the Titanic was her own best lifeboat is mentioned in pretty much every Titanic history I’ve read, so pick your favorite.)
While ships are becoming bigger, the burden on crew members is growing. The Queen Elizabeth 2, which was launched in 1969, had one crew member for about 1.8 passengers. On the Triumph, the ratio was one crew member for every 2.8 passengers. The issue is also complicated by language and communication problems, and a high crew turnover rate that can reach 35 percent a year.
Hmmmm. One wonders what percentage of that “35% percent” turnover is among ship’s officers, crew, and other people who are important for safety? And what percentage is among people like cooks, restaurant workers, maids, and other people who are, shall we say, less important to the safety of a cruise ship?