The cruise ship is sinking - and what to do next

How often do cruise ships sink? What should you do if it does? Our experts show you why you shouldn't miss the lifeboat drills.

Is it Safe to Go On A Cruise Ship Holiday

The sinking of the Costa Concordia has prompted many people to ask this question. The simple answer is 'yes', if you're prepared and take reasonable steps to look after your own safety. You'll find practical tips on how to do that below.

Sensibly, the cruise industry puts a great deal of effort into passenger safety. As part of its review of the Concordia incident on February 10th, 2012 the Cruise Lines International Association released a new emergency drill policy for all of its members.

The voluntary code requires cruise companies to give passengers an emergency safety briefing prior to departure. Presently maritime law states the lifeboat drill (also known as a muster) has to be held within 24 hours of departure. In the Concordia incident many passengers had just boarded and had yet to attend a muster, which undoubtedly added to the confusion and panic.

(White pants and striped tops are essential for muster)

What to do if you think your cruise ship is sinking

The sinking of a significant-sized ship such as the Concordia, with loss of life, is very rare. You have to go back to 1992 to find anything you could call an ocean liner had an incident where passengers died: The Greek registered Royal Pacific was hit by a trawler in the Straits of Malacca, carving a 2 metre hole in its hull. 'The collision happened in the middle of the night and most of the passengers were asleep below decks, and according to reports, the crew thought it more expedient to rescue themselves rather than wake anyone.

The Royal Pacific was an old vessel, built in the mid 1960's. There have been many improvements in safety since then, better radar, better communications and navigation systems, improvements to safety procedures (like the one announced this week by the CLIA).

(Before being refitted as a cruise ship Royal Pacific was a Bass Strait ferry)

Given the number of cruise liners at sea and the increasing numbers of people they carry, it's still one of the safest forms of transport.

Polar Cruising safety tips

Fortunately cruise ships don't sink all that often. Loss of life is rare and the chance you'll have to head for the lifeboats is pretty slim, but not unheard of.

The most significant cruise ship sinking prior to the Costa Concordia was the sinking of the Antarctic cruise ship MV Explorer in 2007: The icebreaker hit an iceberg a little too hard, started taking on water and listing while it was 400 nautical miles south of South America.

150 people onboard had to put on special cold-weather suits and take to the lifeboats. Fortunately there were other cruise ships in the region and despite several hours in sub-zero temperatures, no-one was lost.

(Image: Associated Press)

Arctic and Antarctic waters are inherently dangerous, but also incredibly spectacular and are attracting more and more cruise ships. As the number of ships rises, the chances something might happen also rise. The MV Explorer was the most serious of 9 groundings and incidents in polar waters since 2008, although none of the other ships sank, and in most cases the passengers were able to stay aboard.

Read your cruise ship's safety plan

When you get onboard for the first time, check out that evacuation map on the back of your cabin door. Physically follow the route to your lifeboat station, so you're familiar with where you're going if you have to do it for real.

Take an interest in the lifeboat drill on the first day. If you are in good physical shape, ask a crewmember to show you how to operate the launching mechanism. If your ship really is sinking you may be facing a situation without much help from the crew ' they're as scared as you are and may already be 'directing the rescue from a lifeboat' ' it's more common than you'd hope! 'So knowing how to launch the lifeboat could save your life.

If the order comes to abandon ship, follow the instructions of crew as calmly as you can. The captain knows that getting a few hundred people off a ship takes time, he won't wait until the last minute to get you off, so, no need to push and shove and panic.

Reduce panic in an emergency

One of the biggest problems with abandoning a ship is that many of the passengers are elderly. A younger fitter person may be confident they can get themselves into a lifeboat, but the elderly often aren't. This causes a lot of apprehension and even panic. Do your best to assure those people, and help them when you can. Less panic means a better chance everyone will survive, so it's in your best interests to keep them calm.'

Never jump overboard a cruise ship

Never jump overboard into the ocean. It's usually a long way down and water isn't soft when you're dropping like a stone. Out at sea, the deeper water will be colder than you expect, and that will affect your ability to survive.

Beware of stormy seas on a cruise ship

And one other safety tip, cruise liners can take incredible punishment from the ocean and stay upright. But if you're aboard a liner during a severe storm it's sensible to take shelter.

Don't go to the piano bar where the chairs and tables and maybe the piano are sliding from side-to-side as they did on this cruise ship in 2008. Do not go out on deck, 50 knot winds will whip you off your feet and maybe even throw you overboard. It may be best to stay in your cabin and be comforted by the knowledge that modern cruise liners have to pass very strict stability tests before they're allowed to operate.

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1 Comment

  • Michaela Clancy said

    Hi - I am looking into getting travel insurance for my upcoming cruise- I am wondering if this covers my family wile on the water and in bermuda? Thank you!

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