Cruise Industry: What the media consistently get wrong about cruise ships and bad weather

The mass media loose their s#$t whenever a cruise ship encounters a wave, forgetting that bad weather, and especially unpredictable weather, is what the ocean has been known for, for centuries. Sometimes cruise lines have to make a very well-calculated compromise.

Everytime a cruise ship sails into rough seas it makes global headlines, with quotes from passengers about nightmarish conditions and being afraid for their lives.

It happened when Anthem of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world, was accidentally caught short by a severe gale in the North Atlantic, and it happened again this week when Norwegian Breakaway deliberately sailed around the trailing edge of the ‘bomb cyclone’ that hit North America.

Norwegian Breakaway was cruising from the Bahamas back to her homeport of New York on January 3rd when she was forced to route around the weather system, which Mashable, aiming for sensationalism, says was a dangerous decision on the part of the captain because weather forecasters had predicted a “storm of potentially historic proportions.”

“This storm and its intensity should not have been a surprise to the ship’s captain or crew. In fact, it’s clear that the cruise line made a decision to proceed despite the storm, rather than being surprised by it,” Mashable adds.

Norwegian Breakaway had to return to New York. Cruise ships run on a tight schedule from which they will only be deviated when absolutely necessary, either for the safety of the ship or the comfort of the passengers. The weather conditions that Breakaway sailed through last week were certainly severe, but the cruise ship is big, like Anthem of the Seas, she’s one of the biggest in the world and is designed to sail through these seas. All cruise ships are.

Cruise lines spend millions of dollars ensuring that their vessels are designed to be floating hotel resorts, as well as proper seagoing ships capable of taking a beating from mother nature. The ocean is a violent place, and sometimes a cruise isn’t as pristine and calm as it looks in the brochure.

If Norwegian Breakaway had stayed in the Bahamas for several more days, or re-routed to a southern US port not in the storm’s path, it would have come at extraordinary cost. All 3,900 passengers would have had to be provided alternative transportation to New York, or to their homes around the country and the world, and Norwegian Cruise Line would have had to cancel the next sailing from New York, and reimburse all those passengers.

It would have then had to sail without any passengers from the alternative port, back to New York, using fuel that is no longer tried to any revenue generation. All for what? So that passengers don’t have to see a few leaks and hear some wind whistling through the doors?

CBS News described conditions as an ordeal for passengers, apparently oblivious to the fact that a ten-degree roll and some water being pushed through upper deck doors by the wind does not constitute an ordeal. The video below would constitute an ordeal. It was filmed aboard the cruise ship Voyager, which suffered engine trouble during a severe storm.

Here’s a video of the same ship, but from a helicopter circling her in case she needed assistance.

That experience must have been truly scary, but what Norwegian Breakaway experienced was some rough sea with a high wind. Similar conditions to what Queen Mary 2 sails through regularly on her winter trans-Atlantic crossings, just take a look at the video below.

It’s not very dramatic is it? And that’s because, to the cruise ship crew and maritime professionals at least, these events are not anything to write home about. Yet the mass media frantically file copy filled with quotes from ill-informed passengers.

Fox News affiliate Fox59 quotes one passenger as saying she “sincerely thought the ship was going to break in two”.

Here’s some of the hyperbole from Fox:

“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced,” Walsh-Matias said. “The waves were over 40 feet and it was continuous — children crying, people seasick, vomiting all over the boat.”

The Coast Guard says that waves on the Atlantic were up to 40 feet. With winds howling and the cruise ship rocking, passengers feared for their lives.

Even though it shouldn’t have to, Norwegian Cruise Line issued an apology to its passengers for weather conditions that were largely out of its control, and yet well below the thresholds of what its ship could withstand.

“We sincerely apologize to our guests for these stronger than expected weather conditions and any resulting discomfort they may have experienced,” Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement, adding that it is actively following up with individual passengers on compensation claims.

Some passengers reportedly insisted on sleeping in the hallways because of the wind driving rain into their balcony cabins, while others did so because they thought the ship might capsize. The fact that they believed the hallways to be a safer option reveals how little the average passengers knows about cruise ship safety or maritime operations.

As does the fact that dozens of passengers reportedly walked around carrying lifejackets, because the ship tilted a few degrees.