Rotterdam Loses Power in High Seas

October 1, 2004
In what sounds more like an outtake from "Poseidon Adventure" than a pleasure cruise, passengers on Holland America's Rotterdam last week hit some rougher-than-usual seas in the North Atlantic -- as did other ships, including Silversea's Silver Whisper. What was different about the Rotterdam experience was the addition of a technical snafu.

On Friday, the ship's engineers noticed serious sediment accumulation in the engine's lubricating oil filters, so serious that Holland America spokeswoman Rose Abello called it "unprecedented." The problem was that the oil couldn't get through, which could lead to a drop in pressure and ultimately to engine shutdown. In a proactive move, the engineers figured out a solution and began using a continually cleaning filtration system to get rid of the sediment.

Trouble is, the solution required them to shut down all of the ship's engines. Add to that the fact that the Rotterdam's stabilizers -- which really were earning their mettle up to that point in the rough seas -- need forward motion to work at their most effective. With little motion, the stabilizers were rendered nearly useless.

The engines were shut down at 6:11 p.m., just as first-sitting dinner had begun. The ship's generators kicked in and provided power for emergency lighting and the navigation system, but could do nothing about stabilizing the ship. As such, passengers toppled off chairs, dishes slid off tables, a rolling piano broke its own leg, and glass shattered. In some cases, folks were asked to sit on the floor as a safety precaution.

The power was out for two hours and 43 minutes and, no question, Abello says, "It was a scary experience. But at no time was the ship in danger." Once the engines were re-powered, the stabilizers kicked in with full force.

There were injuries, most of which were minor -- but one passenger broke a hip and another broke a collarbone. Because most passengers missed dinner, the Lido was opened and served sandwiches. The ship was basically back to normal by Saturday (aside from the spa and fitness facility which had a bit more breakage), though it did skip its planned call at St. John's, Newfoundland.

That bypass, however, was a result of the fact that Rotterdam had already detoured away from even more severe weather (remember Charley and Frances?) and so was behind schedule. The ship pulled into Halifax on time and continued on toward New York. An investigation into the cause of the sediment issue is ongoing.