Do Cruise Ships Need Lifeguards?

October 15, 2013

By Karen

Carnival Cruise Line just can’t catch a break but, this time, being Carnival had nothing to do with it.

On Oct. 13, a 6-year-old Florida boy traveling with his parents and 10-year-old brother drowned in the pool of Carnival Victory, on the last day of a 4-day cruise.

The boy’s brother was in the water with him, but it was the DJ working nearby who noticed the child struggling. Another passenger jumped in and pulled the boy out, and a crew member tried to revive him.

Today CBS This Morning had some maritime ambulance-chaser on, railing against cruise lines for not having lifeguards. There’s also some of that in the CNN report.

Carnival responded that this was the first child to drown on one of their ships, and pointed out that most hotels and land-based resorts don’t have lifeguards either.

If you could get your hands on the statistics, you’d probably find that fewer children have died on all cruise ships combined than anywhere else their families might vacation.

Drowning happens fast, and I’ve read that most sink quietly, without screaming and thrashing for attention.

Back when I was 13 or 14, I was walking beside a crowded public pool, a few steps behind my 4-year-old cousin, when she stepped over the edge into 5 feet of water. I immediately jumped in and pulled this struggling bundle from the bottom and heaved her out of the pool.

NOBODY in or out of the pool noticed what I was doing. Had I not seen her go in, my cousin would have drowned.

I feel certain it was the same scene on Victory, but 2 crew members DID try to help.

What I have seen on many cruise ships is that parents abdicate their responsibility for their kids, and don’t even bother to get them into ship-supervised programs where crew is dedicated to watching them. But I’m not saying this boy’s parents were at fault; I don’t know how they were handling childcare.

But you will see kids of all ages roaming ships in packs at all hours, doing disgusting things at the buffet, tying up the elevators, yelling, running, and being a total nuisance, while their parents are nowhere to be found.

I don’t think a lifeguard could have prevented the tragedy on Victory, nor do I think that cruise ships are ever the place for young children. They’re loaded with strangers, they have myriad trip and fall hazards, not to mention the possibility of going overboard.

What I question is the judgment of adults who think bringing young kids on a cruise is ever a good idea. And I fault cruise lines who promote the notion that their ships are amusement parks that happen to float. It gives people the wrong idea.


CNN Fecklessly Turns “Carnival Triumph” into Tragedy

February 15, 2013

By Karen

Throwing responsible journalism overboard, CNN dished so much misinformation and ill-informed opinion about Carnival Triumph, with Erin Burnett calling it the “horrific ordeal” of the “Cruise From Hell,” I think Carnival may have a defamation case against CNN.

In case you need it, background: Cruise ship Carnival Triumph had a fire February 10 on the last day of a 4-day voyage from Galveston, Texas, to Cozumel, Mexico, lost all power, and was towed by tugs back to Mobile, Ala., with 3,000+ passengers and about 1,000 crew onboard.

For starters, CNN incorrectly reported the fire was “on deck” when it was confined to the aft engine room and extinguished by the ship’s systems. The ship was never in danger of sinking although, when it drifted, the wind sometimes caught it broadside and made it list.

I had CNN on yesterday until midnight as the ship “limped” (their description) back to Mobile.

Even as their medical expert, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, repeatedly said contagious disease was a remote possibility from the lack of working toilets, CNN insisted on calling the ship “a floating petri dish” of illness.

Passengers who had working phones yesterday reported eating crab and lobster, but CNN kept urging them to describe the “horrors” of cucumber and onion sandwiches from the previous days.

When the ship was within spitting distance of land, surrounded by small boats, a bunch of passengers goofed with news helicopters by spelling out “HELP” with their bodies on the top deck. Others held signs scrawled on bed sheets.

CNN reported all this as desperate pleas for assistance.

Getting real, the worst seemed to be that passengers insisted on using nonfunctioning toilets to overflowing, and some people took dumps anywhere and created a disgusting mess for everybody.

I’m betting the resourceful passengers who created that tent city up top around the pool weren’t the ones shitting in corners.

As for reports of people hogging food, just walk by any cruise ship buffet any day. That’s “normal” behavior.

I’ve cruised 3 times on Carnival, including 2 sailings on Triumph’s sister, Carnival Victory. Last May I was on Carnival Glory. On formal night, a nearby group got roaring drunk and had a screaming fight while they puked in the carpeted corridor at 2 a.m. until Security arrived.

That’s what they do on Canival’s “Fun Ships.”

So I wasn’t surprised that the crew didn’t begin massive cleanup until the last day. They’d probably seen it all before and knew some passengers would just keep making messes.

As the ship came upriver approaching the dock, one brilliant reporter said, “We should see the bow first, then the rest of the ship is going to follow.”

REALLY? Dontcha want viewers to think it might fall apart in the last few yards?

CNN also tried to make a struggle out of passengers offloading their own luggage. It was only a 4-day cruise. The people I saw seemed to have what most airlines would deem carry-ons.

Donny Deutsch claimed Carnival owns “thousands” of ships (which it doesn’t), so they should compensate each passenger onboard with free cruises for life. Yeah, right.

Granted, passengers who had it worst were in inside (windowless) cabins on lower decks because it was dark, hot, and airless. But those are the cheapest cabins so, to be brutally honest, they got what they paid for.

The CREW live in even tighter quarters BELOW the cheap cabins, yet they were expected to continue working round the clock under the same conditions.

I was so glad to hear every passenger praise the crew. Even on a good day, their living conditions are Spartan, and their hours and compensation from the cruise line are inhumane.

If you want to fault Carnival for anything (beyond ongoing failures to communicate), it’s for not having a Plan B when the waste disposal system crapped out. (Couldn’t resist that one!) In fact, they should consider inventing special plastic bags that can be placed in inoperable ship toilets (like trashcan liners) that passengers can use, tie off, and place in proper receptacles in such an event.

If not for proper sanitation, it boiled down to a lack of hot showers, hot meals, lights, and power to recharge smartphones. BUT THEY WERE STILL ON A BEAUTIFUL CRUISE SHIP.

I don’t think you’ll see any victims of Hurricane Sandy shedding tears over the plight of Carnival Triumph. What these people “endured” was no worse than what millions around the world call “life.”

I still believe cruising is safer than just about any vacation on land, and my next one is coming soon — but not on Carnival.

If there’s any lesson to learn from this incident, it’s that cruise ships have become too big. Cruise lines need to stop brainstorming silly ways to make them floating amusement parks with the population of a small town, and get serious about planning contingencies for infrastructure failures.


Carnival Responds to Lifeboat Drill Concerns

June 6, 2012

By Karen

I sent a link to my recent post on the lifeboat drill I attended on Carnival Glory to Carnival Cruise Line’s president and CEO, Gerald Cahill. Mr. Cahill asked a staff member to respond:

I want to assure you that safety is our number one priority and we have maintained an excellent safety record throughout our company’s 40-year history. All of our crew undergo regular and comprehensive safety training exercises in accordance with international maritime regulations and every ship undergoes a quarterly inspection by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Carnival Cruise Line captains are very experienced and extremely well trained, with most having more than 30 years of seafarer experience. The captain manages and oversees all safety related operations from the bridge, as he did during your cruise in preparation for the annual U.S. Coast Guard inspection that was scheduled for Sunday, May 27, 2012.

Additionally, the captains have well trained officers, that under his direction, conduct and control essential duties related to the safety of the vessel. These duties include the execution of the guest Safety Briefing, as well as, carrying out an abandon ship order in a controlled and efficient manner as directed by the captain.

The Safety Briefings/Drills are governed by international rules and the proficiency of all team members is monitored on a regular basis. The efficacy of the Safety Briefings as it pertains to our guests and their comprehension is reviewed and also monitored regularly by third parties, including the U.S. Coast Guard. Additionally, we conduct guest surveys to ensure we are providing effective instruction. The results of those surveyed consistently indicate guests are very satisfied with the instruction provided.

Moreover, all of our procedures are regularly audited by the U.S. Coast Guard, Lloyds’ and internal inspectors; inspections have been judged more than satisfactorily by the auditors of the different entities. In fact, the US Coast Guard inspection on the Carnival Glory held on May 27, 2012, once again yielded positive results.

The signs in your pictures are International Maritime Organization approved “Emergency Signs” and we are required to display them as they are. These are the same signs that have been used for years aboard ships worldwide. The signs compliment [sic] the verbal instruction provided by our team members positioned in corridors, stairways, and at the actual Muster stations. In an emergency, the signage is structured in a way that following them, as well as, the emergency low level lights, would direct you to the Muster stations.

Naturally, any safety concern is of paramount importance to us. We want to assure you that we have reviewed yours in great detail and find that your Safety Briefing was conducted according to our procedures. Our number one priority is to ensure we provide all our guests a fun, memorable, and safe vacation.

And Bob’s your uncle. No guest survey was distributed on my sailing to ask about anything, or I would have aired my concerns there.

I had to laugh at the explanation for the signs. NO WAY could anyone find muster stations from all parts of the ship by those arrows — by emergency low-level lighting, no less.

Also, signs listing all stations on one whole side of the ship (A,C,E,G) are too vague. I was assigned to station A, and saw people assigned to station G (roughly 800-850 ft. away?) who followed the same signs and ended up at the WRONG END of the ship.

Carnival didn’t address the fact that each muster station must potentially accommodate 500+ people. Nor the absence of green fluorescent caps. Nor the inadequacy of the lifejacket demo.

Carnival seems to rely on an assumption that passengers already know the drill. I guess we can only hope in Carnival’s next emergency at sea, the sloppy drill performance masks real training and skill at crowd control and saving lives.


Carnival Still in Denial on Passenger Safety

May 31, 2012

By Karen

After Costa Concordia capsized in January, exposing slipshod safety practices that contributed to 32 fatalities, you’d think Costa’s parent, Carnival Corp., would be fanatical about safety now. Especially on Carnival line ships, whose Italian captains must overcome the shame of Concordia’s incompetent master, Francesco Schettino.

I just spent 6 days on Carnival Glory, and saw first-hand Carnival’s current safety measures.

My cabin TV welcomed me with a safety video on endless loop, with Captain [Italian Name] delivering the intro and closing. I must have heard a dozen times to look for crew members wearing green fluorescent caps in an emergency.

Glory was scheduled to sail at 5 p.m., with the lifeboat drill at 4:30 on Deck 4.

At 4:20, on Deck 8 I saw a crewman directing able-bodied passengers to elevators down to Deck 4 — it’s stairs-only in any emergency.

On Deck 4, this sign left the lifeboats’ exact location a mystery…

Letters stand for muster stations. Arrow points to an “Emergency Only” door.

This part of the sign was reproduced on walls throughout the ship, like it means anything…

The blurriness is mine, but you get the drift. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Somebody finally opened the “Emergency Exit Only” door (forbidden for passengers), revealing the “secret” outer lifeboat deck.

This 952-ft. ship was divided into only 8 muster stations, 4 on each side, leaving wide open expanses with no signs (screw the near-sighted). Nobody knew where to go. At 4:40, a few young crewmen in orange vests (not green caps) began straggling in and herding us.

Each muster station was assigned multiple lifeboats, whose numbers were read to us later as an afterthought — as if anybody would remember them.

Now, let’s do the math: Glory holds 2,974 passengers and 1,150 crew, so each muster station must accommodate about 372 passengers and 144 crew (if they want to survive), or 516 souls in all.

I saw 2 crewmen at my station to handle that mob.

The drill/lecture was conducted from the bridge not by the captain, but by a young English-speaker. (Nor did the captain verbally preside over the 3 crew drills they presumably had during that voyage. I assume his Italian accent is considered a problem.)

On any other ship, an emergency signal consists of 7 short blasts followed by one long blast of the ship’s whistle.

Glory’s was 5 short, a long pause, then one more short, then one long.

The bridge voice kept saying drill attendance and our complete silence were mandatory. Then he’d go silent for so long, it seemed he’d forgotten us. In the meantime, we were just standing in silence, being told nothing on Deck 4.

Later I learned the protracted silences weren’t due to any sweep of the ship to get all passengers to the drill; I met a couple who stayed in their cabin. Nor was roll taken at muster stations to verify our presence. I’ve seen both procedures on other ships.

We didn’t wear life jackets, nor did anyone learn how to don and tie one because the crewman who demonstrated was standing in a dark area in the bow and made no effort to be seen. Lockers of life jackets lined the deck (locked, presumably, and I imagine rotsa ruck finding anybody with a key), but we were told to return to our cabins for our jackets in a pinch — because that worked so well for the obedient Concordia passengers whose corpses were found underwater in theirs.

The drill took 45 minutes, delayed sailing, and taught anybody NOTHING. If I hadn’t attended good drills on other ships, I’d have been irate.

Many passengers on Glory were taking their first cruise, and thank God it was uneventful, because if you don’t know how to save yourself on a Carnival ship, you’re doomed to a watery grave.


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