Damage Control and Safety A Key Focus Area

Ships lined up in Nassau

Once the damage is done, it is important to know what to do.

“The goal is always to avoid damage control scenarios as much as we can,” said Captain Morgan Turrell,  deputy director of marine safety for National Transportation Safety Board, speaking at a recent industry event.

“Still, in a situation where you find yourself in a flooding or grounding event, there is a need for more awareness,” he continued.

For Paul Santamauro, attorney, marine investigator and engineering instructor at United States Merchant Marine Academy, the key point to damage control is the assessment phase.

“The ship only has a certain amount of time. It is actually the rate of the assessment of what you need to do and how to prepare that is extremely important,” he explained. “After you understand what you are dealing with, you can take actions to address that situation.

With damage control procedures Royal Caribbean Cruises works to ensure the safety of its guests and ships.

“It is always been a topic that we’ve focused on. We need to stay constantly vigilant and aware that those incidents could potentially happen,” said Captain Tracy Murrell, vice president of maritime safety and compliance.

“Risk assessing our operation continuously is also important and not getting ourselves in those situations is, obviously, the primary goal.

“We make sure that the officers and crew are trained, not only to respond to damage, but also in terms of the stability overall and damage stability knowledge,” Murrell continued, pointing out that the ships are very complex, and that their stability rules have only gotten more complex.

The cruise line runs regular, monthly drills onboard all of its ships to make sure the crew is familiar with damage control and damage stability response procedures.

“Most of the people involved in these drills are already in our fire teams, so we basically repurpose these teams for damage control,” she said.

“It works very well because they already know the below deck layout, the systems and areas.”

The cruise line can survey tanks and compartments across an entire ship in just 16 minutes, relaying information to the bridge where a decision can be made.

“While we might have systems on the bridge with sensor data coming in, we need to validate and verify that the information is correct,” Murrell said.

Head of Marine Consultancy at Brookes Bell, Luis Guarin, said that the cruise lines must improve their safety standards regardless of the regulations.

“They are just minimum requirements,” he said. “It is important to look beyond the regulations and understand as much as possible about the capabilities of the ships and how to improve them.”

On the topic of safe return to port he said: “It’s a regulation that was conceived not as a response to an accident but as a response to a concern of the industry that the size of cruise ships was increasing.”

The rules have led to further redundancies in systems for propulsion, communications, fuel and navigation equipment, for example, calling the ship its own best lifeboat.

 “It also introduced a concept called ‘Safe Area,’ a space on a ship where people can stay onboard safely with requirements for sanitation, HVAC systems and food,” he noted.

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