MIAMI, Florida–Over the years, I have seen numerous accidents, many tragic, involving the lifeboats on cruise ships. In this particular incident involving Grandeur of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, fortunately nobody was on board the rescue boat. According to reports, one of the lifeboats broke loose and capsized when the cruise was docked in the port of Charleston, South Carolina. It is fortunate nobody was injured or killed.
There have been several cases involving catastrophic injuries and death where a lifeboat that was being hoisted or lowered with a davit system plummeted to the water. Serious concerns as to the type of system, and the poor procedures regarding testing and inspections, as well as maintenance, have surfaced. Several of the cases involved the breaking of what is called the fall wire, which breaks upon the rescue boat reaching its top position and over exerting pressure on the wire over time. There is a device called a limit switch which is supposed to automatically stop the rescue boat or lifeboat from reaching its top position and over exerting pressure on the wire. It is this limit switch that has been reported to fail on multiple occasions, calling for immediate actions to address the problem, including replacing the davit and limit switch system.
In addition, the procedures of allowing crew members to ride in the life boat from the stowed position of the boat at its top level, almost 8 decks high, has been questioned, as this is very dangerous. However, despite warning of these dangers, cruise ship companies continue to employ this procedure, and rescue boats continue to plummet into the sea upon the fall wire breaking, resulting in needless catastrophic injuries and deaths.
We must keep in mind that these are the boats that will be utilized if there is a major disaster on a cruise ship like a fire, or an incident like that which occurred involving the Costa Concordia. Other than the Costa Concordia disaster, it is fortunate that we have not heard of a major incident on a cruise ship where the rescue boats had to be deployed, and evacuation efforts had to be utilized. Not only was the focus on how in the world the Costa Concordia could run aground and start to capsize with all the modern equipment available, but also on the rescue efforts that began after the Costa Concordia turned on its side and started to capsize. Issues about safety drills came up, as it was learned that lifeboat drills did not take place until after the cruise ship set sail. There were also concerns and questions as to how the crew responded to the emergency, and whether there were enough lifeboats on the ship. There was even a criminal prosecution because the captain got off the boat before all of the passengers and crew were safely evacuated off the ship.
Many cruise ship companies have exhibited total disregard for the lives and safety of the passengers and crew members by not addressing this known problem with the lifeboats. These are lifeboats we must rely on in the case of a major incident such as a fire, or other emergency requiring evacuation. The newer mega cruise ships have more than 6000 passengers on board, so the procedures for evacuation and equipment used, must be a top priority of the cruise ship industry, as well as the regulating authorities who impose standards and laws on the cruise ship companies. Positive changes to be made within the industry.