Modern Safety Features


Dec 3, 2005
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Generally speaking, how are watertight compartments designed on modern passenger ships (ie, longitudinal vs. transverse, watertight doors, etc)? I doubt that specific plans would be available for review for fear of terrorist attacks, but much seems to have been made of the fact that ships nowadays are designed to be two compartments ships, and no more. That can mean a lot of things. Two compartments flooded on the Titanic would be very different than two compartments flooded on the Yamato.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Erik Wood is the one best qualified to address that so I hope he pops in and shares his insights. He's driven the big boys from Great Lakes vessels to some of the cruise ships operated by Carnival/Cunard.

From what I've gathered in earlier from ealier conversations, the two compartment standard is very much the way it's done, and has been done for over half a century. My understanding is that transverse subdivisions are the preferred standard since it avoids the sort of problems one would get with assymetric flooding that would happen with ships that had longitudinal bulkheads.

Keep in mind that cruise ships are not designed to the same intensive standard of subdivision that a warship is and don't need to be because they're not expected to go into combat and seldom even go anywhere near a battle zone. (The QE2 and the Canberra did, but they were taken up in service as transports and were well protected.)

While subdividing to military standards may seem ideal at first blush, they may in reality be more trouble then it's worth. The issue here is crew training, which merchent/commercial ships seldom have time for. To set all the watertight fittings on a warship properly takes a lot of training and intensive workups that can take up to a year before a ship is ready for an operational deployment.

Cruise ships can't afford the luxury of year long workup cycles before making revenue earning cruises.
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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The first and foremost thing to remeber about Cruise ships and the cruise industry is that it's primary purpose is to make money. The same can be said for the cargo industry as well.

Cruise ships are "designed" to be two compartment ships, or withstand flooding in two compartments before things go bad. Now there is a significant difference between design and reality.

Subdivision works on the premise that structural damage was not included when water intake began, it is also based off the assumption that water intake is not going to cause any more structural problems. Now my NA friends are going to argue with me. I am no NA, don't claim to be and really don't want to be. But, my experience tells me that is true.

Subdivision on cruise ships is primarily focused on fire and not sea water. There are several reasons for this, primarily because modern navigation equipment is such that running into other ships or allowing them to run into you (not including mechanical failure and poor seamanship) is almost impossible. Cruise lines spend millions of dollars a year to invest in the best navigation equipment and the most up to date equipment that money can buy. Nothing beats the paper chart and binocs with a healthy dose of good seamanship though. Other reasons include money, design and the every popular speed vs. safety.

More ships catch on fire then sink in the cruise industry. More people are afraid of a ship catching fire then they are of a ship sinking relatively speaking. So they spend the money on what scares people most.
 
Dec 3, 2005
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I was hoping that you (Captain Wood) would have something to say on this. I'll wager that the Oceanos was a two-compartment ship as well, and she didn't make out too good. In some ways, it's comforting the amount of navigational aids that modern ships have. In other ways, it's not, since there's more than one way for a ship to spring a leak. I've also noticed a propensity for things like bulkhead failure and heavy secondary flooding in the wrecks that I've looked at. But you're definitely more qualified than me to talk about this.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>More people are afraid of a ship catching fire then they are of a ship sinking relatively speaking. So they spend the money on what scares people most.<<

And not without some good reason I might add. Think of the Morro Castle, the Yarmouth Castle, the Prinsendum, and the Achille Lauro. All these ships were lost due to fire. The Ecstasy shows what can happen even with the best fire protection if things get out of hand, and it's no surprise to me that this one started in the ship's laundry.
 
Jul 9, 2004
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I agree with Mr. Standart here - companies do spend the most on safety features in the prevention of what people fear most. I know that my concern when I board a ship is not sinking as I know that usually ships don't sail in extremely shallow water, but fire. Even in addition to the ships mentioned above - the cruising public probably won't forget the Star Princess fire and the dramatic shots of the fire's aftermath anytime soon, just as many won't forget the news footage of the Ecstasy any time soon. And let's not also forget the Tropicale engine room fire and the rather disturbing stories that have come from that incident...
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Anyone wanting to understand what happened to the Oceanos need only go to http://www.allatsea.co.za/shipwrecks/oceanoswreck.htm

The funny thing...or perhaps not so funny...is that the ship might have survived had the wastewater system they had been working on been properly isolated.

It wasn't.

Once water was able to ingress by way of the plumbing, it gradually percolated throughout the entire ship and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it.

A fire at sea is one of the very worst nightmares for a sailor. Always has been. It's not like you have a lot of options as to where you can go if you can't put it out. Further, putting it out often involves introducing large volumns of water inside the ship which can lead to some really serious stabilty problems if you can't get it out. Think about what happened to that Egyptian ferry a few months ago.
 
Dec 3, 2005
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>>Further, putting it out often involves introducing large volumns of water inside the ship which can lead to some really serious stabilty problems if you can't get it out.<<

Sure, it took out the Normandie. Didn't one of the other "Lauro" ships have a fire too? It makes sense the way that things are prioritized on the cruise ships, I suppose. But of course, the Oceanos just reinforces the idea that flooding can find ways around compartmentation. Given how airy cruise ships seem to be nowadays, neither scenario seems too peachy.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Sure, it took out the Normandie.<<

Grotesque stupidity above and beyond the call of supremely grotesque stupidity took out the Normandie. It never would have been an issue had some idiot had the sense to clear away all those bales and stacks of flammable kapok life vests from the table he was removing with a cutting torch. Everything else that followed was just a few extra nails to nail the coffin shut.

Had the New York Firefighters listened to the crew and opened up some doors in the ships side to let all of the water out that had to be used, the rollover in all probability never would have happened.
 

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