My family and I were passengers on a five day cruise from Miami. A safety muster was held before we left Miami. One port of call is used exclusively by cruise liners. “Our liner” arrived and drifted less than one mile offshore, maintaining position with its thrusters. Passengers were ferried ashore on several tenders. Going ashore, I was on one of these tenders, “Tender X”. I estimate that she was approximately 25 metres length. Passengers were carried in the main cabin (which had a glass bottom) and also on the upper deck. I was in the main cabin.
No safety announcement was made but I noted lifejackets stowed on shelves and in two piles at the after end. On the return journey in the afternoon, I was on the same tender, but this time on the upper deck. Again there was no safety announcement. I noted that, whereas there were lifejackets in the main cabin, there were none on the upper deck. For passengers on the upper deck, they would have to rely on lifejackets being passed up from the main cabin. As there were only two doors to the main cabin, one forward and one aft, it seemed to me unlikely that this would happen if the vessel were to founder. There were two rafts on top of the wheelhouse but these would probably not have floated free as they were carried between the legs of a tripod mast and they appeared to be tied loosely to the mast. I estimate that “Tender X”, had over 100 passengers on the upper deck. I had heard that the total number of passengers on each tender was 250.
The journey to and from “Our liner” to the small harbour was about one mile each way in a slight sea and was without incident.
On re-boarding “Our liner”, I went to the upper deck and watched some of the ferrying operations. I noted that two of the other tenders carried lifejackets on the upper deck and stowed under the benches.
I subsequently went to the Guest Services desk and happened to meet the Guest Services Director. She listened attentively to my concerns. I commented that I was enjoying the cruise and was impressed by the standards on board. However I would have expected the tenders to have been inspected by “the liner company”, but the obvious absence of lifejackets on the upper deck of “Tender X” made me wonder whether the tender had been inspected.
On 27th December, the Guest Services Director invited me to a meeting with the Staff Captain and the Safety Officer. I had recorded my concerns, as above, in a hand-written note. I advised them of my background in shipping. Again my concerns were listened to attentively and courteously. I also added that from my subsequent perusal of a number of photographs I had taken on board “Tender X”, it was not clear that there were 250 lifejackets in the main cabin; however I had not counted these and so I was not sure of this. I was advised that their next liner was due to call at the location on 30th December and the matter would be followed up. I suggested that the DPA should be advised of the matter. I advised that I would also report the matter to CHIRP.
The Guest Services Director said that I would be advised by e-mail of the outcome. However I have not received any further advice.
1) The specific issue of the absence of lifejackets on the upper deck of “Tender X”: I do not believe that there would have been a realistic prospect of distributing the lifejackets (even if there were sufficient on board) if the tender had foundered. Also, if the life rafts were supposed to float free, they would not have done so. A risk assessment would have identified these issues.
2) The more general issue was whether this cruise liner company has a robust procedure for inspecting tenders and other craft it uses.
3) I was pleased that on board the matter was reported to the Staff Captain and Safety Officer. However, as I have heard nothing further, I do not know whether such reports from passengers are followed up at company level
CHIRP contacted the cruise liner company and was advised the company has made enhancements to the tender’s safety briefing and the raft secured on the top deck was now correctly stowed. Whilst the life jackets were found to be in compliance with the safety certificate, CHIRP commented that if a full risk assessment was undertaken, it would reveal there are no readily accessible lifejackets for those people on the top deck, they will be reliant on people on the deck below passing lifejackets to them. In the event of an emergency, doing this with frightened and untrained passengers may not achieve the desired outcome within the short period of time available to them. It was suggested the placement of the lifejackets on the tender should follow that employed by other tenders at the same location where lifejackets are clearly visible on their top decks.
A shore tender is not part of the ship’s equipment and therefore it is the responsibility of the cruise liner company to ensure, through the contract, that appropriate safety standards are in place. Reliance on local regulations is insufficient and visual Inspection of the craft should be undertaken prior to use.
CHIRP believes the issue should be broadened to include shore leave launches on all ships and the following carried out or considered:
1. Launches should be inspected to ensure they have the appropriate lifesaving equipment on board.
2. Shipping companies should encourage a feedback system on the quality of the service provided, with a comment on the standard of LSA equipment available on the launch.
3. Ship managers may wish to consider whether the ship’s SMS covers all routine activities, such as the launch services used to transfer personnel to and from the ship.
4. Ship managers should ask themselves whether they can demonstrate that they have met their legal responsibility to exercise a ‘duty of care’ when employing launches to transfer crew and officials to and from the ship.
In vessels on irregular calls such as on tramping trades this level of scrutiny is recognised as being more difficult. Management companies should still support Masters who, after inspecting launches offered to them as liberty boats, decide against using them. The difficulties in ports where cruise liners do not call may include suitability of the craft for boarding – tugs and fishing boats for example are rarely well designed for boarding and may lack sufficient LSA for passengers as well. Pilot boats, by virtue of their intended purpose should be better but availability and price of the service can often discourage operators in arranging the facility.