Cruisin’ safely on Alaskan seas

Coast Guard Lt. Colin Schembri, a vessel inspector from Sector Juneau, speaks with crewmembers aboard the cruise ship Norwegian Princess during a fire drill in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 14, 2017. Coast Guard vessel inspectors examine and test the equipment and procedures of commercial and recreational vessels to promote the safety of lives at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Shawn Eggert.

Alaska’s untamed wilderness, amazing ecology and rich cultural history has drawn the attention of explorers, tourists and retirees for decades. In 2016, the Alaska Cruise Association estimated more than one million cruise ship passengers visited Alaska fueling the state’s economy and learning about the importance of its natural resources. With so many lives in their care, cruise ship crews have to maintain a high level of safety and attention to detail to ensure their passengers enjoy an accident-free vacation. Fortunately, for them, the Coast Guard marine inspectors of Sector Juneau, Alaska, and the 17th District are there to help keep them on task.

Southeast Alaska plays host to as many as 32 large cruise ships every summer, each carrying anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand passengers, and this revolving door of large passenger vessels through the Southeast’s ports keeps marine inspectors especially busy.

“Cruise ship inspections are conducted, first and foremost, to assess safety,” said Lt. Colin Schembri, a marine inspector with the Coast Guard Sector Juneau prevention department. “We look at the overall condition of the vessel, but we also want to gauge the crew’s proficiency at carrying out the safe operation of the vessel.”

Cruise ship examinations provide inspectors with an extensive view of emergency systems, engine and lifeboat operations and a crew’s ability to conduct orderly and efficient safety procedures during simulated emergency situations. For an especially large vessel, an inspection can take up to eight hours to complete, but the time spent is well worth it if saves lives. A team of inspectors breaks up into several sub-teams allowing the inspectors to check multiple systems at once and relay information to their teammates when crew responders tasked with different jobs connect and work together.

Coast Guard Lt.j.g. Nick Capuzzi, a vessel inspector from Sector Juneau, and and Seaman Benjamin Smits from Station Juneau examine a rudder control mechanism aboard the cruise ship Norwegian Princess during an inspection in Juneau, Alaska, Sept. 14, 2017. Coast Guard vessel inspectors examine and test the equipment and procedures of commercial and recreational vessels to promote the safety of lives at sea. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Shawn Eggert.

“The amount of work and level of detail that goes into running the ship’s operations is impressive,” said Schembri. “On a turnaround day, the crew has eight hours to embark and disembark up to 2,000 passengers, offload and bring on up to 4,000 pieces of luggage and store enough food to sustain everyone aboard. That’s a lot of work to add onto the task of making sure the ship’s systems are functioning correctly and seeing that the vessel is safe to get underway, but an alert, well-trained crew coming together as a team can provide a lot of assurance to passengers should an emergency occur.”

Juneau’s 2017 cruise ship season may be at an end, but the millions of passengers that rely on the safety of these massive vessels can rest assured that Coast Guard’s marine inspectors are more than ready to keep their crews ready for next year.