February 24, 2013
Lack of Backup Power Puts Cruise Passengers at the Ocean’s Mercy
By BARRY MEIER and JOHN SCHWARTZ
The Carnival Splendor cruise ship was towed into San Diego Bay in 2010, after a fire destroyed its electrical systems.
...What most travelers do not realize when they book cruises: nearly all ships lack backup systems to help them return to port should power fail because to install them would have cost operators more money.
The results are repeated episodes involving dead ships, with all the discomforts and potential dangers such situations can bring. In another case, in late 2012, the Costa Allegra cruise ship, a sister ship of the Concordia, lost power after a fire in the generator room and it had to be towed under guard from its location in the Indian Ocean.
In many ways, passengers aboard boats like the Triumph and Splendor were lucky because their ships were disabled in calm weather, when instead they could have been knocked out during storms, or when they were far out at sea or in pirate-infested waters, experts said.
“Anything that knocks a ship dead in the water is serious,” said Mark Gaouette, a safety expert and former Navy officer.
In 2010 rules for the construction of new cruise ships require backup arrangements such that if one engine room is lost, the other can still power the ship.
In the case of the Carnival Triumph, it was built in 1999. It has two engine rooms, but was not wired to be able to operate if one engine room is disabled. These ships are all electric using diesel generators in two engine rooms and electric motors in another room to propel the ship. One would hope the cruise lines might rewire the existing ships, but that would eat into profit.