This week's commentary by TravelPage.com's European Cruise Editor, Malcolm Oliver examines the the issue of safety on cruise ships today.
Cruising a dangerous pursuit?
I was saddened to read about the recent fire on board Star Princess which claimed the life of a passenger. As you may have read, the fire began at about 3.00am in the morning and a total of 150 cabins were damaged.
Over the past several months there has been an increase in the coverage of the media regarding incidents on on board cruise ships. Most recently these have included stories about people 'falling off' cruise ships and drowning, the incidence of on board crime, plus a series of unfortunate ferry accidents. At first thought one may well think that taking a vacation afloat is a potentially dangerous business, but nothing could be further from the truth.
To put travelling by cruise ship in perspective, lets not forget that there are many hundreds of passenger ships around the world, which represent millions of passengers per annum. Accidents and fatalities are extremely rare. Fire is certainly is a bigger risk at sea than the ship actually sinking, but Modern SOLAS (Safety of Lives at Sea) regulations ensure that all modern ship are built with minimal inflammable materials and advanced fire-detection systems and sprinklers. The crews are highly trained in fire fighting and have state-of-the-art equipment. In fact we must praise the crew of the Star Princess who brought the fire under control and were able to ensure the safety of all but one of the 3,813 passengers and crew.
SOLAS also ensures that we have learnt from the 'Titanic' tragedy. There are now more than enough lifeboats on modern cruise ships for every passenger and crewmember, whatever class you are. Modern navigational aids such as radar, GPS and satellite imaging, ensures that collision with other ships and icebergs is now extremely unlikely.
As for 'falling off' a ship, I would argue that it is simply not possible to fall off a cruise ship unless you are doing something stupid or irresponsible. For example, people have reportedly fallen off a ship while sitting on the rail of their veranda cabin and lost their balance. Such incidents often happen late at night or in the early hours of the morning. The consumption of large quantities of alcohol is very often a contributing factor.
Crime on board a cruise ship is also very rare compared to crime ashore. After all on board a ship muggers and robbers would have nowhere to run or hide, would they? Many cruise lines have their own security staff on board. I'm willing to bet that you are much less likely to be a victim of crime on a cruise ship, than you are in the street that you live on.
In these turbulent times nowhere is safe from terrorism. However, security on board cruise ships is very tight. The days of inviting your friends on board to the sail-away parties are over. Today you can only board a ship if you have been issued an ID card by the cruise line. In addition, many cruise ports are no longer public places and now have heightened security measures.
In light of the recent increase in media coverage and congressional hearings into cruise ship safety, the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) released detailed information about crime on cruise ships during a three-year timeframe (2003-2005). The industry data, based on 15 cruise lines' submissions, totaled 206 complaints from passengers and crew during a three-year timeframe (2003-2005) when more than 31 million people sailed on cruise ships. There were 178 complaints of sexual assault, four robberies and 24 missing persons during the three-year period.
According to nationally-renowned criminologist Professor James Fox who was asked to review the data, "While virtually no place - on land or sea - is totally free of risk, the number of reported incidents of serious crime from cruise lines is extremely low, no matter what benchmark or standard is used,"
So you see, statistically it is much more dangerous getting in your car and driving to the cruise terminal or airport, than it is sailing on a modern cruise ship. You are more likely to damage your health while on board the ship by overeating or overdoing it in the aerobics class, than by any means. So relax and enjoy your vacation afloat. It's when you disembark and return to the 'real' world that you need to start worrying.