We Wonder: Why Couldn't Disabled Cruise Ship Be Evacuated?

NPR | Feb. 14, 2013 7:05 p.m.

Contributed By:

Eyder Peralta

In this handout from the U.S. Coast Guard the tugs Resolve Pioneer and Dabhol tow and steer the disabled 893-foot Carnival Triumph cruise ship on Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico.

In this handout from the U.S. Coast Guard the tugs Resolve Pioneer and Dabhol tow and steer the disabled 893-foot Carnival Triumph cruise ship on Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. Coast Guard, Getty Images

As the Carnival Triumph drifted for days in the Gulf of Mexico, we wondered: Instead of undertaking a slow, arduous tow to Mobile, Ala., wouldn’t it have been easier — and more comfortable for passengers — to send an empty cruise ship to the area and evacuate the 3,143 passengers?

David Peikin, of the trade organization Cruise Lines International Association, said they could not comment on the specifics of the Triumph, but a lot of times these decisions have to do with safety.

“The evacuation or transfer at sea itself can pose some significant risks that must be balanced, based upon the specific circumstances,” Peikin told us in an email. “A variety of factors such as: weather, sea state, present state of safety, health of the persons involved, and specifics of the available transfer mechanisms and equipment must all be carefully taken into account. A safe, but uncomfortable or sub-optimal, situation may under some circumstances certainly be preferable to undertaking a transfer of persons at sea.”

Ross Klein, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland and a cruise ship expert who runs the site cruisejunkie.com, said the decision usually comes to down to one thing: money.

He told us:

“The issue of bringing another ship aside is both an economic decision as well as logistics. There needs to be a ship nearby first off. Then the question is whether passengers can be transferred from one ship to the other (which can be done). But the overarching issue is always going to be cost — mainly the cost of losing revenue from the second ship and customer relations issues that come with disrupting another shipload of passengers’ vacation.”

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