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Winter Cruising Weather - The MSC Magnifica - The Cruise Report

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

Two recent incidents in one week involving deaths on cruise ships lead one to remember that no matter how careful one is there are always risks at sea. To put things in proportion, these two incidents caused two passenger deaths out of the almost 20 million that go cruising every year, but even if that is only one in a million, the events are worth examining in a little more detail.
On a more upbeat note, MSC officially named its latest ship MSC Magnifica in Hamburg on the weekend and Carnival UK last week produced its second annual Cruise Report, indicating that it thinks the UK market will double to 3 million passengers by 2010.


Winter Cruising Weather

The collision with a quay in Sharm el Sheik involving the Costa Europa on February 26, which resulted in the death of three crewmembers, from Brazil, Honduras and India, and three freak waves that hit the Louis Majesty on March 3, causing the death of two passengers, one German and one Italian, lead one to take a closer look at the effect of weather on cruising operations.

Both events occurred within the new environment of winter cruising in the Mediterranean and environs, in bad weather conditions and high winds. But that should not mean that cruising should be unsafe. For decades, the port of New York served as a winter cruise port, something that has been revived again in recent years, and while ships may occasionally have hit bad weather conditions, lives have not been lost. But let us examine the two cases at hand.

In the case of the Costa Europa, the ship hit the pier at Sharm el Sheik while trying to make port in high winds. The result was a hole punched in the starboard side of the hull that flooded a crew cabin, where the fatalities occurred. She was on a positioning voyage from Dubai to Savona at the time in preparation for her handover next month to TUI Thomson Cruises as the Thomson Dream. Evacuated in Sharm el Sheik, her passengers were accommodated in hotels and eventually flown home.

This type of event is not entirely unknown. In fact much the same thing once happened to the Queen Elizabeth 2 at Cherbourg. In one of the less chronicled events of her life story, having sailed from Southampton on October 27, 1974, she called at Cherbourg the same day and as she was leaving that port in high winds the wind blew her over onto the pier, ripping a ten-metre hole on the port side of her hull aft above the waterline.
The ship had to remain at Cherbourg for three days while the French Navy welded a plate over the hole in her hull so that she could proceed on her voyage to New York. Her 1,600 passengers, including the Cruise Examiner, remained on board in Cherbourg, although as the days passed those in a hurry were flown on to New York by Cunard.

No one was killed in this incident but two linesmen were injured, one reportedly losing a leg. The question arose as to whether the master should have attempted to leave port in such high winds, but he had already delayed the departure for some time and these are questions of navigation. In the case of the Costa Europa, one might ask why the attempt to make port at Sharm el Sheik was not aborted in such conditions. In each case, however, the master was fully aware of his responsibilities and as far as they were aware had minimised the risk of anything happening. But such events do occur despite the best of planning.

In the case of the Louis Majesty, she left Genoa on February 20 with 1,350 passengers on a 12-day cruise to the Canary Islands. Rough weather had caused her to cancel a planned inward call at Barcelona on March 3 and she was headed for Genoa when three rogue waves hit the ship as she was crossing the Gulf of Lyon in stormy conditions and high winds. Said to be eight to ten metres high, the second and third waves stove in five windows in the Royal Fireworks Lounge, located forward on deck 5, killing two passengers, one German and one Italian. They were said to have been hit by flying shards of glass and furniture as the windows broke. Fourteen others were injured, including a 64-year old woman who had both her legs broken.

The ship changed course and returned to Barcelona, where she arrived on the evening of March 3. This cruise was terminated, as was her scheduled March 4 departure from Genoa, and Louis Cruises arranged for the repatriation of her passengers from Barcelona while repairs were begun to allow the ship to return to her normal cruise schedule on March 12.

But this was not the first time this particular event had occurred on this particular ship and in this particular lounge. Almost six and a half years earlier, on October 23, 2004, several passengers were injured when, as the Norwegian Majesty, she encountered bad weather en route from Bermuda to Boston. Two windows in the same lounge were smashed by heavy seas. They were repaired on arrival at Boston and she sailed again the same day.

In that incident no one was killed, but it does beg the question as to whether additional precautionary measures should be taken, especially as those windows face out onto a flat open deck with no breakwater. Other traditional ships with such lounges forward usually have them located at least one deck above the main deck. One only needs to look at the Saga Ruby and Mona Lisa as examples.

Given two incidents of this type with this particular ship, that lounge should perhaps be placed off limits when the ship is in heavy weather, for example. Transport Malta and Det Norske Veritas, the ship's classification society, were both reported to have boarded the ship as soon as she arrived in Barcelona so it will be interesting to see whether they determine that additional strengthening or protection measures are required or whether a breakwater or other protection should be installed on the forward deck.

Not that this was the first time for this type of thing to have happened. There are plenty of incidents involving ships such as Home Line's Oceanic, which lost a whole forward deck crane overboard, Princess Cruises' first Island Princess, which was hit by a wave in the Pacific Ocean, and others, but the best-remembered involves another ship that sailed from Genoa.

On April 6, 1966, the Italian Line's 44,000-ton flagship Michelangelo, still less than a year in service, left for New York with 775 passengers. On April 12, now in the open Atlantic after calling at Naples and Gibraltar, a mountainous sea broke over her forward superstructure, killing two passengers, a German and an American, in the process. Both were first-class passengers and both died of head injuries suffered in their cabins in the forward part of the ship.

An Italian crewmember died later of injuries he sustained and eleven others were injured. Variously reported to have been between ten and fourteen metres high (one report even said 40 metres), the rogue wave hit in winds of 70 knots, badly damaging the forward superstructure in the process. The Michelangelo continued her voyage and arrived in New York a day late, with her ensign flying at half-mast.

Despite one report that the Louis Majesty had been hit by three "tsunamis" and another question about natural calamities becoming more frequent, we need only look back to earlier years to see that this is probably not true. The Krakatoa volcanic eruption of August 27, 1883, east of Java created a tsunami that killed 35,000, for example, and a "year without a summer" because of its dust. The hurricane that hit Galveston on September 8, 1900, resulted in 8,000 deaths. And another volcanic eruption at Mont Pelée on Martinique on May 8, 1902, completely destroyed the town of St Pierre, killing all its 30,000 inhabitants and destroying several ships in the harbour.

Natural cataclysms and bad weather are nothing new. The only conclusion to come to is that if cruise lines are going to cruise the Mediterranean and other areas in winter time, when there can often be bad weather, then they must take the utmost precaution to protect people's lives and well being.


The MSC Magnifica

The MSC Magnifica visited two important ports in two important markets for MSC after her delivery by STX France in St Nazaire. First came Southampton on February 26, where 3,000 British agents visited the ship over two nights, and next came Hamburg, where she was officially named on Saturday (March 6).

The MSC Magnifica's visit to Southampton presages the MSC Opera's shift from Dover to Southampton in 2011. MSC will benefit not only from the fact that Costa maintains a policy of not basing any ships in the UK but also because NCL have now withdrawn from a market where two years ago they had two ships, one based in each of Dover and Southampton.

Meanwhile, MSC's German market is also important as they will have the MSC Poesia based in Kiel and the MSC Orchestra based in nearby Copenhagen this summer. Hence her naming in Hamburg by Sophia Loren, the line's official ship godmother, in the presence of 2,300 invited guests, music and fireworks on Saturday night.

From Hamburg, Magnifica sails for Amsterdam, where she will be tomorrow (March 9) and then on to her home port of Venice, where she will offer 36 seven-night summer cruises in 2010. These will be followed by seven eight-night and seven more eleven-night winter cruises to the warmer parts of the Eastern Mediterranean including Egypt, Israel, Greece and Croatia.

The Cruise Report

Carnival UK last week produced its latest annual Cruise Report, whose most interesting forecast was that the size of the UK cruise market would double to 3 million passengers by 2010.

If that finding is true, a lot more new ships will have to be built as a 2,500-berth ship offering a cruise on average every ten days can accommodate about 87,000 passengers, so that would mean a need for another 35 new ships of average size 2,500 berths or 25 new ships capable of carrying 3,500 passengers. So we can expect to see new ship deliveries continue.

Micky Arison also commented that he found it unusual that there were not many shorter cruises offered in the UK market and he expected that there would be a larger selection of cruises offered in future years.

Good news perhaps for travel agents is the finding that only 5% of people book their cruises on line, a figure that drops by half for ultra-luxury cruises, and the conclusion that it is unlikely that on line booking will grow.

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