Friday, March 5, 2010

Cruise ship safety - no risk no fun

Monster waves had been a long believed myth topic but they are a physical reality - sparse but real.
The recent hazard on the cypric cuise ship "Louis Majesty" is such a reminder.
2 people died as a short triple high wave phenomenon called the "3 sisters" hit deck 5 and burst windows.
The ship and most other passengers did not suffer any further damage and continued safely to Barcelona for repair and passenger swap for the next 14 day "unforgettable dream vacation".
                                Image is screencapture from Youtube movie
Unlike the cuise ship Voyager 5 years ago. Again the calm mediterranean sea, again in February/March - Voyager was bound to Barcelona from Tunisia. It came across the Winter storm Valentina when a monster wave crashed into the bridge (!) and cut off the electronics for engine control.
Loss of engine control then was the main problem as Voyager was helpless literally a bobbing cork on the water. (watch the full Youtube clip to relive and imagine this cruise ship experience for those 780 passengers).
Risk of capsizing is immanent when you cannot turn a ship "into the wind" facing the waves and riding the swell because the ship tends to turn sideways so that wind and swell increase the torsional moment.
Voyager experienced peak bank angles of up to 40-50 degrees far beyond the "comfort zone".
You may - or may not - remember that this horror cruise experience finally had a good ending as well - mechanics managed ultimately to repair the engine control at least partially.

Does this now constitute a warning to "avoid" cruise ship tours alltogether?  How great is the real risk?

The clear - yet totally personal and subjective - answer is no. Apart from unsolved Bermuda triangle mysteries there are no major mass catastrophies yet accountable to monster waves. "Kafrenzmänner" as monster waves are called in German seamen circles are a physical fact but are extremely seldom phenomena.
"At sea and at court you are in God´s hands"
The luxury of contemporary cruise ships should never obscure the fact that we are placing ourselves at sea in the domain of physical forces of extreme power that we cannot fully control.
There is no prediction mechanism or algorithm in sight that could "pre-warn" ships from monster waves - and they can occor in otherwise calm environments, so even enourmous progress in weather forecasting, radar, GPS etc. is no total insurence.
What remains is the simple insight that the beauty and marvellous experience of a cruise ship extravanganza is never without risk - with notable emphasis on the fact that the most risky parts of a cruise ship tour are the flight transfer to the departing port and even more - believe it or not - the car transfer to the airport!

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