Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Making "Mega" Cruise Ships Safer

In the Costa Concordia disaster lauching lifeboats from the badly listing ship turned out to be almost impossible - half the lifeboats were never even launched. Hundreds of passengers were stuck for an hour or more in dangerously tipping lifeboats stuck half way down the Port side of the ship. Eventually rope ladders had to be flung down the side of the ship to evacuate passengers from stuck life boats - as well as hundreds of the passengers and crew waiting at their Muster Stations. Boats from shore were stationed under the ladders eventually, and passengers - including ambulatory challenged seniors, very young children and parents with babies, had to climb down these precarious ladders to evacuate the ship.

In the future, if any one of the 100 Mega Ships Carnival Corp runs around the world needs to be evacuated far out at sea, lifeboats from shore won't be there. A Ship's lifeboats need to work or people will die. See Reuters - "Analysis: Italy disaster shows Titanic lifeboat issues linger" - http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/20/us-italy-ship-lifeboats-idUSTRE80J1UR20120120.

The Costa Concordia sinking is gift from Neptune to all of us. Ship line owners need to learn from this and implement changes that official investigations will high-light in a sinking just metres from land, in calm and in relatively warm seas.

Mark Dickinson the head of the Nautilus International - a union of maritime professionals - has already proposed that some sort of system for lauching lifeboats off badly listing ships is desperately needed.
"Attention needs to be paid to existing evacuation systems and more innovative systems for abandonment," said union general secretary Mark Dickinson in a statement. Dickinson said the magnitude of modern cruise ships may be the problem. "The sheer size and scale of such ships presents massive challenges for emergency services, evacuation, rescue, and salvage -- and we should not have to wait for a major disaster until these concerns are addressed,"
(From Cruise Critic's "After Concordia: What's Next for the Cruise Industry?" (January 23, 2012) under the sub-heading "Safety Toll: What Happens to Industry Regulations?" http://www.cruisecritic.com/news/news.cfm?ID=4721#safety)

Here's a statement from Nautilus International, published on there site:


The rush to judge the actions of the master and crew before a proper investigation into the grounding of the Italian-flagged cruiseship Costa Concordia, may obscure serious and profound safety lessons, warns Nautilus International.

Nautilus general secretary Mark Dickinson, said while the union was shocked and saddened at the tragic incident and loss of life, it was also extremely disturbed to see the rush to judgement over the action of the crew – and the master in particular.

‘It is highly regrettable that the master is being singled out for blame before the results of the maritime and criminal investigations are available,’ he said. ‘In this the centenary year of the loss of Titanic, there is a danger that just blaming individuals will obscure the serious and profound safety lessons that may need to be learned, as well as the matter of justice and a right to a fair trial.’

Nautilus believes that as well as determining the causes of the accident, the investigation should also focus on how cruise ships are designed, managed, regulated and run.

Senior national secretary, Allan Graveson, said ‘We should not just look at narrowness of human error, but do a full scientific investigation and apply any lessons to future ship building and operation.’

‘We have moved to economy of scale. There is nothing wrong with that, we do need a sustainable and vibrant cruise industry. There are many good ships being operated extremely well, but there are some elements that do need to improve.’

Nautilus had been expressing concern for a number of years about the operation, construction, design of cruise ships – some of which have doubled in size in the last ten years. The technology of evacuation likewise needs looking at because of the acknowledged shortcomings of lifeboats and liferafts.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO), also urged caution until the causes of the accident are established.

‘IMO must not take this accident lightly,’ said general secretary Koji Sekimizu. ‘We should seriously consider the lessons to be learnt and, if necessary, re-examine the regulations on the safety of large passenger ships in the light of the findings of the casualty investigation.’

Nautilus International's newspaper, "Telegraph" has a full report on the capsized cruiseship in their February issue - which is available online on the first busines day of the month - http://www.nautilusint.org/Resources/pages/Telegraph.aspx.

Below is a quick sketch I made that shows how one might design a reliable lifeboat launching system for these 'floating city' or 'Apartment Building' Mega Ships.

Each lifeboat sits in a holding 'cup' which pivots on an axis and is carried by a chassis with wheels that follow a track down the side of the ship to below the waterline - to under the ship. As the lifeboat reaches the water it floats out of it's 'cup' - which lowers well below any conceivable water line on a badly listing ship.

At this publishing 16 bodies have been recovered from the Costa Concordia - 20 passengers and crew are still unaccounted for, including Americans, French and Italians.
(Telegraph UK - "Costa Concordia: 16th body found" - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/9035691/Costa-Concordia-16th-body-found.html.)

More than a week after the sinking, divers are still searching the submerged parts of the ship cabin by cabin in THE MOST DANGEROUS diving conditions there are. At a certain point officials may decide recovering bodies is too dangerous and wait until the ship is re-floated to check the rest of the ship.

Listen to an interview with the Deputy Mayor of Giglio who boarded the capsized ship soon after it beached and before it started listing dangerously - from BBC radio show "Outlook", 19 January 2012 - http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00mwbld

"Rocker-Bogie" suspension developed by Don Bickler
and later patented by JPL in June 1989
Via - www.brickvista.com/techNotes/MecTherMobTemp.html
1:45pm - 24 January 2012 - Thinking again ... what about a boat which is sinking for example, to the stern - and pitching the bow high? Or a combination of pitches? Perhaps a similar lifeboat lowering system but without wheels in tracks - but rather with a Mars Rover "Rocker-Bogie" suspension system which can descend at any angle and bridge any gap it might encounter.

Here's a clearer image of a "Rocker-Bogie" suspension system. This is built to be as light as possible because it costs a lot to launch things out of earth's gravity well. As well it is highly articulated.

Via - http://www.unmannedspaceflight.com/lofiversion/index.php/t3143.html

On a Cruise Ship those are not important, they would travel in a straight line and encounter bumps and gaps. Weathering and salt corrosion are important on a sea going vessel - so plastic, aluminum or stainless steel. 



  1. Looks like the Rocker-Bogie suspension system is a cool innovation that should be integrated to the life boats. I wonder why they haven't consider this issue before this accident?

    1. Thanks for the comment; you've got me thinking about a new article on the history of the Mega Cruise Ship.

      As to your question, I think the reason nobody has considered this issue before is two fold: the functioning here represents the normal learning metric that complex human organizations go through when assimilating new 'stuff' - and - these Mega Ships are only 15 years off the drawing board.

      The tests that 'proved' they will stay up-right in a storm at sea were only done in the 1990's.

      Imagine the number of possible thought vectors ship designers are dealing with.

      "Lowering" a life boat seems pretty straight forward - until you imagine a 12 story building leaning 20°.

      On the history of Mega Cruise Ships, I think it is interesting that these ships exist because of an 'economy of scale' - and it all started I'll bet, with the new oil-tanker-sized cargo container ships, and Super Ports like Antwerp.