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Tragedy Fells Five Mariners on High Seas

A mariner died recently on a cruise ship when a lifeboat he was testing in a safety drill malfunctioned. According to reports, he was in the boat along with four others lifting it up and down when suddenly the cable broke and the five mariners were thrown. Two others were seriously hurt and taken to the hospital. Two escaped with minor injuries.

Never at any time were passengers onboard at risk of injury or death. The Harmony of the Seas, owned by Royal Caribbean, was docked in Marseilles, France when the tests were being conducted for the crew. Muster drills for passengers are usually held within an hour or two of sailing and do not involve them entering lifeboats.

All cruise lines that I know of conduct safety drills for the crew when in port while most passengers are off ship enjoying themselves. Conducting these drills are essential for the safety of everyone on board. No one wants a crew that doesn’t know exactly what their function is in an emergency.

After investigating the incident, authorities discovered two disturbing things that helped create the situation. One was a rope wire that was corrosive despite being coated with plenty of grease. While you might think a wire cable lathered in grease would be protected from salt air, it obviously was not the case. In fact, authorities determined that it covered up the problem, preventing anyone from seeing just how corroded the cable really was.

Authorities fixed another cause of the accident on the way the cable was wired. Because it was not mounted properly, repeated friction and tension caused it to prematurely wear. The lifeboat had actually been manipulated up and down several times with the mariners in it to make sure it was properly functioning. It was during this time that the cable malfunctioned. In essence, the workers in the lifeboat risked their lives for passengers who one day might have had to use that very lifeboat in an emergency situation.

The Harmony of the Seas is not an old ship. She just made her maiden cruise on May 29. One wouldn’t reasonably expect cables on a new ship to deteriorate so rapidly, though anyone who works or plays around the sea is aware of just how quickly metal exposed to moisture and sea air can deteriorate. I shudder to think what would have happened had the lifeboat been filled to capacity with passengers with the order to abandon ship.

The tragedy would have been horrendous. Yet that one mariner’s death should be no less horrific to people who enjoy the luxury of cruise liners. His family will never see him again; they will endure great financial hardship without his income. And his children will never have a father to bring their joys and sorrows to.

Cruise ship companies and mammoth shipping companies are for the most part, I believe, responsible and fair-minded companies, conscientious of the safety of crew and passengers. But I cannot help but think they must step up to the plate not with a symbolic gesture, but in a deeper way to circumvent the next tragedy. Employing a troubleshooter whose sole function is to see that proper safety precautions are followed on all ships is a good start. Whatever is being done now is obviously not enough. How many deaths would the CEO or other executive of a shipping or cruise line find acceptable if the very next victim was to be their father or son or sister or aunt?

As for cruise ships, I have to wonder how safe are those lifeboats passengers take for granted day in and day out on their voyage? Most seem to be safe. I’ve seen them lowered into the water. I’ve ridden in them and have reasonable faith they function well. But even one failure is unacceptable.

After that accident, I hope each cruise line is rethinking the maintenance and operation of their lifeboats. For starters, they should forbid workers from entering them while they are being raised and lowered unless proper safety precautions are in place.

I also hope and pray that they are putting together an energetic plan that will ensure safety for everyone, and hiring an ombudsman not distracted with other duties to carry out that plan as vigorously as possible.

What’s your opinion? How many lives do you think are expendable before the cruise and shipping industry come up with a better safety plan for mariners and passengers?

                            Bill Hegerich

                            The Uncommon Mariner

 

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