Cruise ship safety: Behind the scenes

 

Coast Guard marine inspectors stand at a rail with a cruise ship employee to watch the test of a ship’s lifeboat during an inspection in Juneau, Alaska, Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2012. Cruise ship employees demonstrated emergency procedures for Coast Guard inspectors to verify that their practices meet safety requirements. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst.

Anyone who has sailed on a cruise ship from a U.S. port has probably noticed, aside from the luxurious exterior and dedicated service, that preparation for at-sea emergencies is taken very seriously. Lifeboats and life rafts line the sides of the ship, fire suppression equipment is visible on every deck, and there is no lack of information on how passengers should act during an emergency situation.

So, just who is it that ensures cruise ship personnel are staying on top of their safety game? For that, we have Coast Guard marine inspectors to thank.

During the summer months, Southeast Alaska becomes a hotbed of tourist activity. With limited infrastructure, one of the easiest ways to visit the area is by cruise ship, each carrying anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand passengers. The constant flow of these large vessels through the Southeast’s ports keeps marine inspectors busy.

From May through September, as many as 32 large cruise ships will call on ports throughout Southeast Alaska. According to the Resource Development Council for Alaska, approximately half of Alaska’s visitors arrive by cruise ship.

“When we conduct a cruise ship inspection, it’s done because of safety,” said Lt. Jonathan Dale, a marine inspector with the Coast Guard Sector Juneau prevention department. “We’re looking at the overall condition of the vessel, but we also want to see the human aspect that goes into the safe operation of the vessel.”

A cruise ship examination includes inspection of various emergency systems, such as fire suppression and lifeboat operation, as well as an observation of the crew to ensure they can perform in a simulated emergency situation. Depending on the size of a ship, an inspection can take up to 8 hours.

In an effort to improve safety on cruise ships, as well as promote standardization throughout Coast Guard marine safety units, personnel from Sector Juneau, Sector Anchorage, Sector Puget Sound, Wash., Marine Safety Detachment Ketchikan and the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise rendezvoused in Juneau, Sept. 11-13, for joint training and conducted examinations aboard two cruise ships.

The group of inspectors conducted examinations as a team, allowing for input from the many available perspectives. Just as personnel from the Cruise Ship National Center of Expertise were able to train the Northwest-located examiners on recent changes to Coast Guard standards, the local teams were able to provide input on the specifics of inspecting ships in this region.

“In Alaska we have some strict environmental regulations because it is such a pristine environment,” said Dale. “We want to make sure all the cruise ships operating in Alaska are doing so in the cleanest manner possible.”

At the end of the week, the marine inspectors went back to their respective units with a little more knowledge than before the joint exercise and new contacts to draw on in the future.

Juneau’s cruise ship season may be coming to an end for this year, but the hundreds of thousands of passengers that rely on the proper enforcement of safety standards onboard these massive ships can rest assured that 17th Coast Guard District marine inspectors are more than ready for next year’s season.

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