Are cruise ships now too big to sail?

“Problem is bigger than the industry wants to acknowledge”

Mirroring their popularity, cruise ships have grown massively in size, from the 46,000-ton Carnival Holiday being one of the biggest in 1985 to today’s Royal Caribbean record holders that are up to 225,000 tons.

But the increase in ship size worries safety experts and regulators who are trying to limit the supersize craze.

“Cruise ships operate in a void from the standpoint of oversight and enforcement,” argues James E Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board between 1994 and 2001. “The industry has been very fortunate until now.”

Dangerous accidents and fires have recently hit megaships operated by Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean and other companies. Cruise operators say that bigger ships are safer and have more fire safety equipment on board. Carnival says it will spend $700 million on improving safety operations.

But politicians in the US are debating new legislation that would strengthen federal oversight of cruise lines’ safety procedures and consumer protections. Experts warn that bigger ships have bigger challenges, with fewer options in an emergency.

“Given the size of today’s ships, any problem immediately becomes a very big problem,” said Michael Bruno, a former chairman of the National Research Council’s Marine Board. “I sometimes worry about the options that are available.”

Captain William H Doherty, a former safety manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines, said: “The simple problem is they are building them too big and putting too many people aboard. My answer is they probably exceeded the point of manageability. The magnitude of the problem is much bigger than the cruise industry wants to acknowledge.”

The New York Times

[pictured: Quantum of the Seas; image courtesy Royal Caribbean International]

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