The Mediterranean and the Caribbean were once the main attractions when people considered taking a cruise. However, as the popularity of cruising continues to increase, new destinations are opening up.
In recent months Royal Caribbean International signed a deal with the Singapore Tourism Board to promote cruises out of Singapore. Royal Caribbean sees the Asia Pacific region as the fastest growing cruise destination, especially China. Additionally, and to underline this fact, China has announced plans to build ten cruise ship terminals and hopes to become the largest cruise market in the world in years to come. Not to miss the boat, the Carnival Corporation has also announced that it is adding two more ships to its China fleet to cash in on the expanding Chinese market.
With this growing demand for cruises, the size and number of passenger vessels being built is on the increase. Four new passenger vessels have just been ordered by Carnival Corporation from Meyer Werft. These LNG-powered cruise ships will be in excess of 180,000 gross tons and will have accommodation for 6,600 passengers each. Earlier this month, Meyer Werft launched the Norwegian Escape, a 164,600 gross ton cruise ship with a capacity for 4,248 passengers, and accommodation for a crew of 1,650.
These are massive ships capable of carrying many people. Any kind of serious incident such as fire or collision could potential see a huge loss of life. While it is true to say that passenger ships on international voyages tend to be in the news more as a result of a breakout of illness among passengers than anything else, they like any other vessel can suffer a serious incident. Recent passenger ship casualties that spring to mind are the Costa Concordia, which after striking rocks, capsized and sank off the Tuscany coast on 13 January 2012, with the loss of 32 lives. More recently, in June of this year the Dong Fang Zhi Xing, also referred to as the Eastern Star, capsized in severe weather with a loss of 442 lives.
In the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters which is expected to come into force on 1 January 2017, enhanced regulations were adopted with regard to ships operating in Polar Waters. Special attention was given to passenger ships in the Code and amendments to the SOLAS Convention. For example all cruise ships operating in Polar waters must have available to every passenger and crew member a cold water immersion suit. All fire extinguishers must be protected from ice, be operable in cold weather, and be able to be used by crew members or passengers wearing heavy gear.
While these new regulations are sensible and welcome, the majority of passenger vessels do not operate in Polar conditions. Statistics show that it is the domestic passenger vessels making short sea voyages that are most at risk. Severe accidents involving ships carrying passengers on domestic sea voyages have yielded a loss of life of in the region of 1,000 people since the beginning of 2014.
Shortly after the Costa Concordia incident the IMO issued MSC.1/Circ.1446/Rev.2 - RECOMMENDED INTERIM MEASURES FOR PASSENGER SHIP COMPANIES TO ENHANCE THE SAFETY OF PASSENGER SHIPS. After the Dong Fang Zhi Xing fatalities the IMO Secretary-General Sekimizu admitted that not enough attention had been paid to passenger shipping in the domestic sector, but instead the focus had been on larger passenger vessels, with provisions being put in place in view of their increasing size.
One such measure which came into force is the amendment to SOLAS II-1/8-1. This is mandatory for all passenger ships built on or after 1 January 2014, and which are 120 meters or more in length, or have more than 3 main vertical zones. In case of flooding, it must be possible to provide the master of such passenger vessels with operational information to assist with decisions to aid the ship’s safe return to port. This may come in the form of installed stability computers, or through access to shore based support providing rapid access to computerised damage stability and strength calculation programs.
As stated by the IMO Secretary-General, more needs to be done to increase the safety of passenger vessels on domestic sea voyages. While this problem is being addressed, it would not be surprising to see more regulations introduced to all passenger vessels in general.