Last January I traveled from Hong Kong to Singapore on the Volendaam. I have thought long and hard about this review, and I tried to contact someone at Holland America to talk about it, but I got no response better than a brush off ... Read More
Last January I traveled from Hong Kong to Singapore on the Volendaam. I have thought long and hard about this review, and I tried to contact someone at Holland America to talk about it, but I got no response better than a brush off "You reported a sharp zip", which is an untruth. It is possible that they did act on my correspondence; if so, they gave no indication of that, so here it is.
My concerns were about poor maintenance and safety. The poor maintenance applied to all parts of the ship. It was very cold throughout the ship for the first few days, people were leaving the dining room to go back and fetch their coats. Anyone with an engineering training kept noticing maintenance tasks that were just not being doing done when they should - engineers are trained to actively look for problems, it becomes a habit. The Lido area was in such a bad way that it just looked tatty. I did raise the issue with the front desk, and with the Lido manager (I think he said he was) but nothing got done.
The overwhelming impression I received was that the Maintenance Department was seriously under staffed, or dreadfully badly managed.
That was only disappointing. Then we got to Halong Bay and went ashore on a Tender. These Tenders have zip panels (4 in all) in sides for entry and exit which are a vital component of the Tender in a heavy sea. A heavy sea is what you will be in if the ship sinks and has to be abandoned, so it really matters. A heavy sea is what the Tender will find itself in, if during the 10 minute journey to shore it gets caught in a vicious sudden squall (it happens). If the panels don't zip up securely the water floods into the boat and passengers will get washed away. People will probably die.
On this particular Tender the zips on the rear port side panel were completely shot, large sections of teeth missing, zip stitching failed and coming away from the canvas. There was no way that panel could have been closed, at all, not even slightly. It was appalling that passengers were being sent out in that boat, it was appalling that the seamen manning the Tender were apparently un-aware of its dangerous state, and were surprised when I pointed it out. It begged the question of who was responsible for ensuring this Tender was in a safe condition. As far as I could work out - no one.
OK, one Tender, they got a report, I assumed that they would do what any organization would that has any kind of a safety culture, if one was wrong they would fix it and go round and check all the others. That is what you do, that is safety 101, and if you don't do that sooner or later, you get a serious accident.
Then we went by Tender into Danang. This tender had similar problems (forward port side) in that the stitching had failed in three places. If a wave hit that weakened stitching it would rip the rest of it open in moments, and again people would likely be washed overboard.
So bad stitching, shouldn't have happened. But it's worse that that. Those tenders are constructed as two fibreglass sections (top and bottom) joined together to form a monocoque structure. In the centre is a 2 metre high vertical steel square section that holds the steering gear and cabling up to the steering wheel on a mezzanine area. That square section also helps to hold the roof up and is an integral part of the strength of the roof of the Tender, the strength of the roof of the Tender that will be vital if a wave lands on it in a storm. The box section was formed from a C (aka U) channel with a plate screwed onto the front with screws every 15cms. That precisely regular distance between the screws tells you that the Engineer who designed the structure calculated how close together the screws need to be to get the full strength of a Box section, and not just the much weaker C section behind it. But most of the screws were missing. Clearly a maintenance worker had taken the plate off and when putting it back again decided he didn't need all those screws to hold a covering plate in place, and didn't bother with two thirds of them. But it's not a covering plate, it's a structural element; it really matters. Further there were no screws at all at the L bend at the bottom (where they were not conveniently accessible), which would be the most likely fracture point because bends are always a weak point.
This was not a recent phenomenon. The empty screw holes had been over painted. So a maintenance engineer didn't do their job properly, whoever signed off that work didn't do their job, the Tender has subsequently undergone further maintenance, and the person who painted it didn't say "This isn't right", and whoever signed off that paint job didn't notice anything either. Further the dozens of seamen who have manned that Tender since haven't noticed or haven't commented. In the airline industry where safety is taken seriously any one of these people would have been sacked on the spot, immediate dismissal, and all their past work reviewed.
But what does that mean for the sea worthiness of the Tender? Could it survive a heavy sea? Nobody knows; it is as simple as that, nobody knows. Unless you go back to the original designer's calculations, who will have designed for the roof to not collapse under a certain force (i.e. a great big wave landing on it), and put in a C channel to replace the Box section that was designed, you just don't know. It might be OK, it might not. Probably not, if it was OK without them the designer wouldn't have bothered with all those screws. Nobody designs in cost that isn't needed.
So there we have it, it might be OK it might not, nobody's bothered. That seems to be the attitude to safety on the Volendaam. On the other hand, I hand traveled on the Zaandam the year before and found nothing to fault; nothing. How can two ships in the same company be so completely different? Read Less