Friday, July 21, 2006
CROWN PRINCESS ROLLED 15 DEGREES, RIGHTED AFTER 30 SECONDS
IS IT SAFE TO CRUISE?
I have a cruise booked for September (hurricane season) and hope to work in another one in December, so I can come back refreshed and relaxed for the holiday season. Having presented enrichment lectures on cruises, I have been on quite a few and have always felt safe, including cruising during Hurricane Isabel. Therefore it pained me to hear the recent distressing news about the people who were injured when the Crown Princess listed starboard for 30 seconds. I’m concerned about the people who were hurt. It must have been a frightening experience.
I’m also concerned about the reactions I’m hearing from other people. I talked to a woman today who says she will never set foot on a cruise ship again. It doesn’t make sense to me to consider cruising unsafe because of one event, troubling as it is. Who’s “right” and who’s “wrong”? Well this comes up, doesn’t it, in emotional discussions. Being an EQ coach, I tried to view some different perspectives. It's emotionally intelligent to analyze and think through an emotional reaction.
First of all, there are the biases of the speaker. The woman I was talking with is prone to seasickness. I think she’s looking for an excuse not to have to get on a boat again (her husband pushed it), and why should see? The stabilizers on a cruise ship are incredible. I feel absolutely nothing but loveliness, but I see people with the patches (which appear to work quite well), and hear them at table saying Aunt Martha spent the first 12 hours in her stateroom throwing up. This is like me and skiing. I don’t like speed, I don’t like height, I don’t like being cold, and my knees are barely ski-worthy. Why, you might ask, would I go skiing? Well, I wanted to try it once. I did, but I don’t share my experience of it because it’s highly skewed. I caught myself rationalizing if after the fact -- “It’s dangerous,” I said. “People break their necks. There are avalanches.” This from someone (me) who rides motorcycles in Cozumel? One can get hurt skiing, as one can just about anywhere, including on a cruise ship. But with caution, and some luck, it just isn’t that likely.
It’s got to be better than riding in a car almost any day, almost anywhere.
I turned down two free cruises (from a relative) because I was afraid of hurricanes at sea. Then I got invited to speak on a cruise and was so excited I forgot, and off I went, just in time for Hurricane Isabel. The worst that happened was a day without sunshine, some rocking of the boat, no going out on deck, and Belize instead of Grand Cayman (a sorry trade, to me). On the other hand, I’m on a cruise with good food, a good friend and a good book. Why complain? I like to think my enrichment lecture was a nice diversion for others.
It ‘s stationary land masses that suffer from hurricanes. They move at about 5 miles an hour. A cruise ship can go much faster than that, has all the latest equipment, and simply outruns it, or changes course, as we did.
So I was lucky enough to face that fear and get over it and it’s a good thing because official “hurricane season” is about 6 months of the year (June – November).
HOW SAFE IS IT?
I checked on the Internet and came up with some isolated events of people going overboard, or dying from smoke inhalation. There is some morbid fascination re: people who die of natural causes on a ship (happened on one cruise I was on) but that’s hardly attributable to the cruise ship. In fact I would say at least they got to die happy.
What can you expect personally? First of all, how safe do you want to be? I maintain that if you get dead drunk and wander around anywhere at 3 a.m., you’re looking for trouble. Likewise if you blatantly disregard precautions. Someone was injured on our Russian River cruise because he did what we had been specifically cautioned not to do. He got himself beat up by some gypsies in a subway tunnel because he left the tour group, which we had been cautioned against doing and we had been warned about the gypsies.
The cruise lines say their first concern is the passengers’ safety, and this is sometimes in spite of the passenger. For instance, decks are slippery – you’re on the ocean. If you’re drunk, how much more likely are you to slip and fall? You tell me.
How serious are they about it? So much so, it’s a nuisance, from the minute you’re on board (after you’ve passed security). Instead of getting to go play, you have to go through muster – go get your lifejacket, follow the escape route, stand and be counted.
And then there’s the security. You can’t just wander on and off the board. You have to queu up, show identification, punch in and out. Disembarkation can take hours because the Coast Guard is checking each passenger and sometimes their possessions, one-by-one. Once we were delayed leaving because the Coast Guard had divers scouring the bottom of the ship looking for drugs. There are often dogs around the port baggage areas.
Sitting at dinner one night, a woman at our table announced she would be “jumping ship” when we got to the Mexican port du jour as she was meeting a friend and they were heading north by train. None of us thought anything of it since we hadn’t considered doing it. The next day we had our day on shore and that night the woman didn’t show up for dinner, as advertised. During dinner we set sail. I was hardly back to my room before there was a knock on my door – people in security uniforms wanting to know what I knew. She hadn’t checked back in to the ship and they started a search immediately.
It’s like a lock-down – 24-hour security with highly trained security personnel You can’t just wander off and non-passengers aren’t allowed on. I know. A friend met our ship in Key West, and they would not allow him onboard. Period.
A couple of years ago I cruised shortly after the media covered a flu (?) outbreak on a cruise ship – just like could happen at your office, or your child’s school. There were some people sick on our ship, and I started coming down with something. I find this to be expected when I’m in a “city” of several thousand people living together for 10 days. I went to the ship doctor, got an antibiotic, and enjoyed being sick in a place where I could go to my room, be waited on hand and foot, and have no further obligations or responsibilities, which allowed me to get well quicker than usual.
You can deposit money and valuables with the purser and there’s a safe in your room. If you’re gambling, drinking and irresposible, I would think you would be an easy mark, but still less than you would be on dry land. As our Cayman guide said, “We don’t have a lot of crime. This is an island. Where ya gonna go?”
According to FBI statistics, cruise ships are safer than virtually anywhere in the US in terms of crimes of any type. (Cruiseline Coalition) US passengers are protected by US laws in international waters and crimes are investigated.
According to the International Council of Cruise Lines, the 15 major cruise lines received 206 complaints from passengers – reporting 178 sexual assaults, 4 robberies, and 24 missing persons -- during a three-year period (2003 – 2005). That pertains to 31 MILLION PASSENDERS, 1/3rd again in staff.
A young man jumped off a ship in 2001 after losing $9,000 in the ship's casino and was later picked up by a small gambling ship. The remedy for that would be Gamblers Anonymous for the gentleman, not you or I avoiding cruising.
According to a database compiled by cruise critic Ross Klein, 52 people have “gone overboard” from cruise ships, 40 of them fatally, in the past decade.
Notice it doesn’t say “falling” overboard. The decks are huge and there are barriers. To get off the ship and into the water would take effort and intention, unless you were thrown (dragged, pulled). I hope the day isn’t coming when there are walls on the sides of ships so we can’t see the ocean, or security personnel stationed at intervals. What would happen to the romantic evening and the star gazing engaged in by sensible people? It is disturbing and tragic that people commit suicide, or get murdered this way, and some incidents have never been resolved, but people do these things elsewhere, more often and it can’t be screened for; no weapons were involved.
This is a realistic concern, and ship fires are investigated by a Safety Board. I remember the one on the Universe Explorer in 1997 because my son had just gotten off the ship in Seattle. It then went to Alaska, where a fire in the main laundry caused the death of 5 crewmembers due to smoke inhalation, God rest their souls in peace. Among fires the Board investigated, it found that the ships were not equipped with automatic smoke alarms that would sound locally in crew and passenger areas. This has been rectified.
There was another incident reported when a fire erupted “on a balcony of a private room” aboard a cruise ship. One person died after suffering a heart attack (related to the incident?) and 13 passengers suffered smoke inhalation. If it happened on a private balcony, it must have been … you tell me.
The average cruise ship now has 4,000 smoke detectors; 500 fire extinguishers; 6 miles of fire fighting hose; 5,000 sprinkler heads, 400 fire stations or hydrants and sufficient lifeboats and rafts for more than the number of individuals onboard, as well as 170 trained fire-fighting personnel.
There are also emergency and medical crews “only a few hundred feet from any possible incident … [with an] average response time in an emergency … [of] a matter of minutes.” I witnessed this happen when a woman overturned her husband who was in a wheel chair, an unfortunate incident that might be reported as a “cruise ship accident”, but certainly can’t be blamed on the cruise ship or even to motion. We were still in the harbor.
The Coast Guard inspects each ship yearly, including “hull structure, watertight integrity, structural requirements to minimize fire hazards, equipment requirements for lifesaving, firefighting, and vessel control, and requirements pertaining to the safe navigation of the ship. All cruise ships must also meet standards of the International Maritime Organization and the International Convention for Safety of Life at Sea.
According to the Cruise Line Coalition ( http://www.cruisedirectonline.com/cruiseshipsafety.htm ), “sanitation standards on cruise ships far exceed those of any land-based facility”. Sanitation is regulated by the industry and also the U.S. Public Health Service's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC conducts unannounced inspections of “fresh and drinking water, spa and pool systems, food storage, preparation and service areas, general hygiene, and waste management equipment and facilities,” and ratings are given by the CDC's Vessel Sanitation Program.
Personally, while cruising, I’ve witnessed some accidents. All involved men, liquor and willful defying of rules; or unsupervised teenagers, also drunk. We were all delighted when a teenager was caught dealing drugs aboard one ship, and the Captain deposited him and his family on the next Island presumably letting them find their own way back home. A woman had a heart attack at dinner and died. A woman overdosed on prescription medication when we were in port, and was rushed to a hospital. A woman broke her ankle after renting a motor scooter in Mexico. The scooter had defective brakes which must be why the ship specifically warns you not to do this.
A rational analysis – admittedly my opinion – barring malfunctions like the steering mechanism, which are admittedly rare (or they wouldn’t be so newsworthy), a cruise ship is a safe place to be. Unless you’re drunk and irresponsible, which would certainly contribute to the sexual assaults as well. They aren’t likely to occur in public.
A similar event (ship rolling) evidently ocurred in February, this time the ship turning to shore because a passenger had had a heart attack.
Lastly, again, our condolences to those involved in this incident, with thoughts and prayers for their recovery.
Susan is the author of "How to Get to Present on a Cruise" and other ebooks on emotional intelligence, and How to Deal with Difficult People, an interactive online course that's changing lives.
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Posted by Susan Dunn, M.A. at 3:09 AM