Marine Firefighting Inc.
Newsletter # 21
Cruise Ships as Floating Hotels?
As we all watched commercials about the winter Olympics to be held in Vancouver, British Columbia there was a small article running in the background that didn't make much of a story. Due to the perceived lack of hotel space in Vancouver a quick thinking entrepreneur came up with an idea, "Norwegian Star is sailing next month to its ultimate port of call -- the Vancouver Winter Olympics. After a four-night repositioning cruise from Los Angeles, the Star will be berthed in Vancouver where it will become a four-star hotel throughout the Games."1
In this case it did not happen because of higher than expected expenses and the low numbers of advanced bookings. While it didn't work out in Vancouver, the idea of cruise ships acting as hotels has happened in the past.....
January, 2005 "Cruise Ships to Serve as Floating Hotels for Super Bowl XXXIX; providing 3,819 Rooms to meet hotel demand.
So what's the problem? This seems to be a great idea. Port cities which did not have the number or hotel rooms available for an event can just contract with cruise ships to tie-up at their docks and possibly double the number of rooms available. Not only that, the ship will have its own restaurants and theaters.
Does your city have a building code, a fire code, a health code? Well throw them out for the duration of the event when these ships are acting as hotels. There are construction, fire, and health codes which these ships must comply with but they are international codes. These may or may not be as stringent as those codes your municipality felt necessary for its citizens and tourists.
In the US we also have an Americans with Disabilities Act which requires an occupancy be so constructed to allow access and egress to persons with disabilities or in wheel chairs. That law cannot be enforced on a cruise ship. That may cause several problems trying to safely evacuate a wheelchair bound individual.
In any event, your fire fighters and other local municipal employees will not be familiar with the international codes so how are they going to inspect the ship? That is, if they can inspect the ship. A ship is not a piece of property that you can just walk aboard and start enforcing local laws. These ships are covered under International law. As I teach in my "Shipboard Firefighting" seminars, the Captain of the ship is called the Master. This term once was "Master Under God" meaning that only God could tell the Master what to do. Anything done aboard must be done with the Masters permission. The only exception comes with some federal officials. The US Coast Guard "Captain of the Port" is the only one with the authority to move a ship without the Masters permission.
So, you now have thousands of hotel rooms in your city which may not meet your own codes and you may not be able to inspect them. What's the problem. These ships are "State of the Art" vessels. The crews aboard have received special training in firefighting and evacuation techniques. They are familiar with the vessel and with the firefighting and safety equipment. Anyone who has taken a cruise will remember the mandatory fire and evacuation drill that had to be attended before the ship left the dock. You will remember reporting to your "Muster Stations" while wearing that very bulky but all important life vest and being directed to your life boat station.
Well, guess what? Those licensed crew members who had to be certified in firefighting and safety may not be aboard. Remember, the ship will be tied up at a dock for many days and not moving. Do you think that the cruise company will keep aboard all of these people who job it is to steer and navigate the vessel or keep the full engine room continent aboard while the vessel is not moving. In most cases these members of the crew will be told their services will not be needed until the ship is ready to leave. Of course the food, and maid service will remain but they did not have the firefighting and safety certificates required by the licensed crew. And, if the domestic staff is just hired from the port where the ship will be docked they may not even be familiar with the ships layout and escape routes themselves.
Now let's look at who will be using the ship. The "Hotel" guests will not all be arriving at the same time as would be the case if they were coming aboard for a cruise. There is no departure time so the guests will arrive as they please. This means that there will be no drill which would have been required on a cruise. The guests will not be familiarized with fire safety and evacuation routes. OK, granted; they wouldn't have a drill at he the hotel either but most hotels are laid out more simply than the decks and levels of a cruise ship. Those of you who have taken cruises will remember trying to find that same dinning room or bar you were at last night. After walking the corridors for awhile you would ask one of the staff and be shown the proper route. Now inagine trying to find your way out during a fire with smoke filled halls.
Most, if not all, Fire Departments in Port cities have trained their Firefighters and Officers in all aspects of structural firefighting. From a single story private dwelling to a major hi-rise office building or hotel, they have drilled and become knowledgeable in building construction and the procedures and tactics needed to fight a fire and safely evacuate these buildings. Strangely however, these same port Fire Departments have neglected to give the same attention to the training and equipping of their personnel in all aspects of shipboard firefighting. Ship fires are treated as any other fire. This mistake can have devastating consequences.
So, what do we have?
A ship with a confusing maze of corridors, exits, and watertight doors.
A ship that does not have to comply with any of the local building and fire codes.
Guests who may not know how to find an exit.
Some of these guests may be handicapped.
Most of the crew who are certified in firefighting and safety may not be aboard
Maids and cooking staff who have not been certified in firefighting, safety, or evacuation techniques.
Your Firefighters who may not have been trained or equipped for shipboard firefighting.
What we have is a disaster waiting to happen...........
City administrators and Fire officials should look long and hard at this issue before you allow one or more of these ships to operate as hotels in your city.
1 Jan. 4, 2010 IF Press "OUT-TO-SEA: Floating hotel The Norwegian Star will dock in Vancouver to become a four-star hotel during the Games By JIM FOX AND BARB FOX, SPECIAL TO QMI AGENCY"
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