A small cruise ship ran aground off the Alaska coast this morning. Throw in the sinking last month of a European cruise ship off the coast of Greece, and you could get the idea that cruise ships are forever smacking into things.
Except, really, not so much. As USA Today reported, the ship that sank "isn’t typical of the modern megaships most Americans sail on …" And neither is the Empress of the North, the small ship that ran aground today. (Gene Sloan, on USA Today’s excellent The Cruise Log blog, points out that this isn’t the first time this ship has had problems.)
The truth is, the major cruise lines serving American ports haven’t seen anything approaching a true disaster in many decades. Oh, there have been dangerous events. Fires, rogue waves, mechanical breakdowns, passengers overboard, crimes, viral outbreaks – plenty enough to ruin a vacation and more.
But it’s always hard to put these things in context because of a big perception gap about mass-market cruising.
On the one hand, you have die-hard cruisers who will find no fault with the industry in any case. Did a norovirus from the buffet on a night of heavy seas leave you crawling around your stateroom in misery? Quit whining! You should have washed your hands, and, besides, I’ll bet you were drunk.
On the other hand, some people have very unrealistic expectations about cruising. Waves? On the ocean? Viruses among thousands of people from all over the world? It’s an outrage!
Still, when a cruise ship crashes into something, most everyone would probably agree that’s a bad job. And just because none of the mega-ships belonging to the major cruise lines has sunk, there simply can be no guarantee that it will never happen – any more than there’s a guarantee that a plane won’t crash or a train won’t derail.
The question to ask, I think, is whether the cruise lines, the International Maritime Organization and the U.S. Coast Guard are taking reasonable steps to try to prevent it from happening. I figure they are.
And yet, stuff does seem to happen. In the spring of 2005, I was on a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas, which was sporting a fresh patch on a 30-foot-long gash in the hull. The captain had been trying to dock in rough seas and the ship smashed into the pier at Costa Maya, Mexico. (The dent is still there, last I heard.)