Mega Cruise Ships: Disaster risks for the Caribbean

Carnival Triumph Disaster

Carnival Triumph – Yet another cruise ship drifts helplessly

by Robert MacLellan for Barbados Free Press

In considering risk assessment for Caribbean nations in relation to cruise ship emergencies, let’s do the math…

Nearly sixty percent of the world’s cruise ship fleet is in the Caribbean from November to March each year. Over forty per cent of the world’s cruise ship fleet is owned by Carnival Corporation (Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Princess, P&O, Holland America, Seabourne, Aida and Ibero cruise lines). At least four major incidents have occurred in the last twenty-seven months on that company’s ships alone.

Two potential disasters for Barbados and other small Caribbean countries

Let’s consider just two of many potential Caribbean disaster scenarios, based on the fact that three of Carnival Corporation’s cruise ships have each drifted helplessly for approximately ninety miles. If a ship leaving or returning to the busy cruise home port in Barbados loses all propulsion and steerage-way when west of that island, wind and current might very likely make it drift the ninety miles to the wild and rocky east coast of St Lucia – with huge risk to human life, to the marine environment and to the country’s tourism based economy. If a ship leaving or returning to the principal Caribbean cruise home port in Puerto Rico experiences the same situation when south-west of Anguilla and St Maarten, a ninety mile drift could take it to the pristine but dangerous reefs of the Virgin Islands.

Unlikely disasters? No – very possible based on recent events.

Engine room fires on the Carnival Triumph, Carnival Splendor and Costa Allegra and a flooded engine room on the Costa Concordia after a severe collision with a rock – all resulted in a complete loss of propulsion and no ability to steer the ship. While these incidents may raise questions about ship maintenance or navigation standards and may influence safer design of cruise ships in the future – the Caribbean, in the meantime, has to live with huge ships built to these current design specifications with their self evident inherent risks. (see Mail Online’s Carnival Cruise Ship Hell)

That takes us to the issue of disaster planning for major cruise ship incidents in the Caribbean and the emergency resources currently available. Some of the recent incidents in Europe and near the US coast have had the full benefit of well resourced coast guard and tug boat services. Even then, powerful tugs were clearly struggling to maintain course and minimal speed with Carnival Triumph’s sheer size in the latest case. In the Indian Ocean the Costa Allegra ended up precariously under tow by a small fishing boat! In Caribbean waters how fast can powerful tugs and other suitable rescue vessels reach a stricken cruise ship in order to avoid disaster?

Most cruise lines today operate under a world-wide minimal tax structure but there is now considerable pressure in the US Congress to force them to make a real contribution towards the costs of all of the federal services they benefit from in the United States. Caribbean governments should be pressing now for similar greater financial assistance from those massive companies, which currently exploit the region’s beauty and facilities at minimal cost. Surely, at least, cruise lines should be contributing directly to improved marine disaster management resources for the Caribbean, while they identify and implement solutions for their own serious problems.

Robert MacLellan is CEO of MacLellan & Associates: the largest hospitality, tourism & leisure consultancy based in the Caribbean. He has nineteen years experience in the hospitality industry in the Caribbean and was a cruise ship hotel officer and Vice President Hotel Services of a cruise line earlier in his career.  Contact him at

Photo of Carnival Triumph conditions courtesy of Cruise Law News



Filed under Barbados, Barbados Tourism, Disaster

3 responses to “Mega Cruise Ships: Disaster risks for the Caribbean

  1. Canadian Tourist

    I’m not a fan of cruise ships, but not because of recent incidents. The net benefit of a cruise stopping at an island, I would assume, is to the cruise company. Imagine the benefit derived from having the folks who visit your port for the day stay on the island for a week instead.

    If hotels & resorts are booked to full capacity, bring in the cruise liners as they become gravy at that point. However, in the yearly trips to Barbados I’ve made in the past decade, I have yet to see such traffic…

  2. 36

    I recently cruised the Caribbean in Nov/Dec with P & O and while I fully understand the concerns raised in this thread, I was impressed with the ship and its staff. We were hit with a small number of the Novovirus which was handled brilliantly. I realise that the guist of this article is more about the environmental impact of a cruise ship accident, but 3500 persons each spending >€100 each has got to have a positive effect on the islands economy.

  3. sith

    Carnival Corp is traded on the NYSE. It is up 22% in the last year and 2.4% on the day. Investors do not apparently see the risk of crusing as being larger than the potential returns. Oil tankers pose a greater risk than cruise ships and drilling for offshore oil perhaps even a bigger risk. The only way it will all get controlled is by regulation.