Cruise Critic Members Respond to Sea Diamond Incident
Passengers Still Missing; Evacuation Procedures Probed
Sea Diamond Captain, Officers Charged with Negligence
Divers Search for Missing Sea Diamond Passengers
Louis Cruise Lines' Sea Diamond: A Brief History
Under the Captain's Table's Joyce Weighs In
Greek Ship Sinks; Two Passengers Missing
Passengers Evacuate Listing Greek Cruise Ship
Travel Guard Offers Free Help to Evacuees
Update: Since this story was published, Cruise Critic members have written in with a great question: Which cruise ships, if any, have double hulls? Well, we dug up the answer. The only cruise ship in recent history we've found in our research to have had a double hull was Radisson Diamond (now a Hong Kong-based casino vessel). However, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 and Queen Elizabeth 2 do have stronger hulls designed for trans-Atlantic service.
(April 10) -- After hours of research on Cruise Critic, you know your balcony cabin will be roomy, the food plentiful and the family program excellent -- but how do you know if your ship is safe?
The question of safety is certainly top of mind; after a Greek cruise ship struck a volcanic reef last week, it tragically sank in the Aegean Sea off the coast of Santorini, leaving many cruisers vowing to take their next muster drill more seriously. But the answer isn't cut and dry. Because the job of enforcing safety standards is shared among the country that a ship's registered to and those to which it travels, finding safety data can be tough -- particularly for international ships like Sea Diamond.
What can you do to protect yourself before you even set sail? Here are a few tidbits and tips:
Surf the Port Exchange Information System. This is a database of vessels that call at U.S. ports (i.e. not ships like Sea Diamond; query local agencies for safety statistics on fully international vessels). The system is maintained by the United States Coast Guard and is searchable by vessel name, number, flag, build year, etc. Once you've found your ship in the database, you can view a list of active documents and certificates; when we plugged in Carnival Legend, for example, we learned that it received its SOLAS Passenger Ship Safety Certificate just this past July.
Check the Coast Guard's annual reports. Though not as useful as the Port Exchange Information System, these annual reports will tell you, for example, how many passenger ships were detained during a particular year for safety and security breaches (in 2005, none). Mainly, it's a reminder of the Coast Guard's presence onboard: they witness fire and abandon drills, examine vessels for compliance with all laws and regulations, and have the authority to require corrective action on deficiencies before allowing a ship to take on passengers in any U.S. port.
Consider CLIA. CLIA, Cruise Lines International Association, is a trade organization that represents cruise lines and agents. A cruise line must meet strict international safety standards to become a CLIA "member" (21 lines are -- click here for a list); CLIA also provides classroom seminars, Internet-based courses and video training to affiliated travel agencies.
Above all, take a deep breath and relax. According to CLIA, the Coast Guard conducted a study that found cruising to be "the safest form of commercial transportation" -- and over the past two decades, 90 million passengers safely enjoyed a cruise vacation.
Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a brand-new At Your Service on the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention.
--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor