Coast Guard assists on the Carnival SplendorAll commercial ships face the same risks, but to varying degrees, according to Commander Wilford R. Reams at the U.S. Coast Guard Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise in Fort Lauderdale. These include fire, flooding, piracy, security and the environment.

In addition, cruise ships are subject to some unique risks, such as crowd control and crisis management issues, based on the large number of people onboard, Reams said. However, STCW (standards for training certification and watch-keeping) provides a basis for safety and people management, he added, noting that cruise ships have staff dedicated to crisis management, including a safety officer.

The U.S. Navy and Coast Guard assist on the Carnival Splendor.

The magnitude of risk factors goes up as ships get larger, noted Reams, with more equipment onboard, more passengers and more crew. In addition, the cruise industry is pushing the envelope on innovation, coming up with the newest and greatest designs.

“Innovation can outpace prescriptive safety standards,” Reams said. “There has been a shift at the IMO to goal-based standards and performance-based designs. When designs deviate on a high technical level, that means more extensive fire and evacuation modeling.”

Other risk factors cruise lines must cope with are passenger safety and comforts on a more basic level, including slips, trips and falls.

As for fire, ships are built with active and passive systems, Reams explained, with the passive system being preferred, meaning structural boundaries that will limit a fire within a defined space for a certain time. Active systems are sprinklers that rely on sprinkler heads and pumps to work.

“You cannot design out all risk in any industry,” Reams said. “However, cruise ships are subject to stringent and thorough layers of safety, including international instruments (SOLAS, STCW, etc.); flag state administration and class surveys; Coast Guard and U.S. Public Health examinations; as well as internal, company audits; and safety and risk management and training.”

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Spring 2011