With millions of passengers taking thousands of cruises each year, statistically cruising is a very safe way to travel. Naturally, officers and sailors and other members of the maritime team are trained to international standards to handle all types of emergency situations. However, most passengers probably don't realize that all crew members (such as waiters and room stewards) are very well equipped to deal with safety at sea.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has partnered with the Philippine Center for Advanced Maritime Simulation and Training (PHILCAMSAT) to provide safety training for all of its Filipino crew members at the Maritime Skills Training Campus (the Mast). It's a residential training center located about 50 miles south of Manila, the capital of the Philippines. The skills and safety course, undertaken by all crew members in every section of the cruise ship, is an eight-day course, and each year employees are sent on refresher courses of one to three days' duration.
Cruise Critic was invited to take a look behind the scenes at the Mast. We observed while Filipino crew members learned various safety drill procedures, so they would be prepared in the event of an accident or evacuation. Take a look at our slideshow to find out more about their training regimen and what goes on at a cruise ship training center.
--By Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor
Our first stop on the tour was a large pool flanked by diving platforms at different heights. It wouldn't look out of place in a resort. However, this was no place for lazing in the sunshine. As we watched, a group of Royal Caribbean sailors were being taught how to abandon ship by jumping into the water fully clothed, with one hand over their mouths and the other across their life jackets. First they lined up on the pool edge, taking turns as the instructor gave the command to jump. Next they progressed to higher platforms to simulate going into the sea from the deck of a cruise ship.
Once in the water, the trainees and qualified crew members worked as a team to launch circular life rafts that inflated in a matter of seconds by pulling a cord that released compressed gas from a canister installed in the raft. They partnered up and practiced lifesaving skills -- one adopting the role of the rescuer and the other a man overboard or passenger that has abandoned ship. The rescuers guided their partners to the life rafts, helped them get onboard and made them comfortable before covering the raft in a protective hood to keep out the elements.
A dramatic wall of flame burned fiercely in an area filled with pipework and ducts, which had been designed to resemble a ship's engine room. This exercise was specifically geared for tackling engine room fires; however, all crew members attending the center are taught how to react in the event of an outbreak of fire anywhere on the ship. Wearing protective clothing and oxygen masks, the participating crew members edged toward the flames in unison, deftly rolling out a fire hose at the same time. Two men steadied the end of each hose as another turned on the water jet. Soon the fire was completely extinguished, and they discarded the hot fireproof suits.
The training center's firehouse simulates the effect of a smoke-filled cruise ship corridor. Exercises here are obligatory safety training for all non-marine crew. After being equipped with high-visibility protective gear, crew members lined up outside as the instructor gave a final briefing. The metal door opened, thick smoke belched out and the trainees placed one hand on the shoulder of the person in front and filed inside. The instructor moved to the other side of the building and carried a stopwatch to record how long it took the team to find their way through the corridor, searching for passengers. When they emerged in a cloud of smoke out the escape door, the trainees were carrying a "casualty," in the form of a dummy, which they carefully laid on the ground for first aid treatment.
Close to the firehouse is a winch, used to show how to handle ropes safely and avoid accidents when mooring and casting off.
The training center adjoins a river where two life boats hang above the water. One is a "freefall" vessel, positioned pointing toward the water on a sloping slipway and typically used on cargo vessels. The second is suspended horizontally on davits, the crane-like devices that are a fixture on cruise ships and used to suspend and lower life boats into the water.
On the river, three crew members practiced maneuvers in a small, fast rescue boat -- the kind large vessels, especially passenger ferries and cruise ships, use for man overboard situations. The river leads into the South China Sea, where search and rescue exercises are held under darkness at night.
Inside, the training center has classrooms with nautical names such as Starboard, which are used for briefings before the practical sessions, as well as for theory-based lectures.
After the intensive drills, crew members relaxed over a meal in the training center restaurant and reflected on a job well -- and safely -- done.