Lifeboat Drills Important

This year is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic – an event which was thought to be impossible at that time.

We all know that the ship hit an iceberg in calm seas. At the time there were 2,223 people on board. The ship had received numerous warning about icebergs in that part of the North Atlantic she was traversing, but she continued her journey at near maximum speed. The ship suffered a glancing blow that buckled her starboard (right) side and opened five of her sixteen compartments to the sea. The Titanic actually took many hours to sink. She hit the iceberg at 23:40 on April 14, 1912 but didn’t sink until 02:20, nearly three hours later.

Because the Titanic was considered to be indestructible, the ship only carried enough lifeboats for 1,178 people, or less than half the number of people on board, and that is the reason why 1,517 people perished that night. They either drowned or died of hypothermia because of the cold water. If Titanic had of carried enough lifeboats, most, or possibly all, of the people on board would have made it to safety.

Since then it has been a legal obligation under maritime law for vessels to carry enough lifeboats to accommodate all people on board, and under maritime law, cruise ships, and all sea going vessels, must carry out lifeboat drills each voyage.

One hundred years on, and we see another incredible and entirely preventable maritime accident with the grounding of the Costa Concordia just off the Italian port of Giglio. Even though all the facts are not known at this stage it is certain that the accident was caused by human error rather than mechanical failure. It appears that the captain may have been doing a bit of showing off by sailing a little too close to shore and not following navigation channels.

Tragically, deaths have been caused by this alleged stupid act of bravado. Because the ship had just left port passengers had not had the opportunity to do the mandatory lifeboat drill, and, from all reports, confusion reigned supreme on board.

I recently undertook a short cruise out of the West Australian port of Fremantle on board the MV Athena, which is a Classic International Cruises vessel.

Like the Costa Concordia we too departed in the early evening but, unlike the Costa Concordia, our captain did not lair about, and simply sailed his ship as safely as possible to make sure that we cleared the entrance to the harbour without incident.

Our mandatory drill was held at 9.30am the next morning, straight after the breakfast service. There were clear instructions in our cabins about where to find and how to don the life jackets, and clear instructions both in writing, and from the ships p.a. system about where we were to go for the drill. As soon as we exited our cabin we saw many of the crew, dressed in their emergency uniforms and each clearly identifiable, who guided us politely and efficiently to our muster area.

The emergency grew was comprised of anyone who worked on board the ship: stewards, waiters, deckhands, officers, entertainers, all of whom were clearly identified as crew and all of whom knew their particular role for the duration of the drill.

The drill was handled very efficiently and there was no confusion amongst the passengers about, if the situation were to occur, where there muster points are, what the lifeboat procedure was, what our expectations of crew were, and what their expectations of passengers were also.
The whole process took just one half hour, but I felt that it was worthwhile and my confidence that we were aboard a safe and professionally run vessel was confirmed.

When you are at sea even the largest cruise ships are but corks bobbing along in a massive ocean. If some tragedy were to befall a ship, and there is enough bad weather and rogue waves on the oceans to give cruising some risk, then it is good to know that that the captain, crew and passengers on the ship you are enjoying will know what to do in the rare case that an accident of magnitude could occur.

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