Crown Princess


Too Much Superstructure; Too Little Ship

Are The New Cruise Ships Top Heavy?


By James Donahue

July, 2006


While this writer is not an expert on ship design, he does know when a ship looks peculiarly out-of-balance. And a lot of the new cruise liners coming off the ways, stacked with decks that make them look like floating luxury hotels, appear dangerously top heavy.


Thus it was no surprise to me when the new 19-deck Carnival Cruise liner Crown Princess, came dangerously close to capsizing during its first full cruise from New York to Grand Cayman and back again.


Billed as one of the largest cruise ships in service, the Crown Princess is 951 feet long and 195 feet high. It was carrying 3,100 passengers and a staff of 1,200 crew members, just 11 miles out of Port Canaveral on the start of its trip back to New York when suddenly the ship tilted hard to one side.


The list was so severe and happened so fast that people were thrown against walls, loose furnishings crashed, water flowed from swimming pools and many passengers thought the ship was going to tip completely over. But it slowly came back up and righted itself.


The official word was that the vessel tipped 15 degrees in a calm sea while traveling on autopilot. The captain wasn’t even on the bridge when the mishap occurred. The Coast Guard is continuing to investigate this strange accident, but in the meantime, the Princess Cruise Line is sending the ship back to New York to pick up another 3,000 passengers booked for yet another trip.


No one has yet been able to explain why the ship tilted. There was no evidence of a rogue wave. The explanation of defective steering has not been proven either. To date, the cause of the accident remains a mystery.


After putting back into the nearest port, doctors treated dozens of passengers for injuries ranging from fractures and dislocated joints to elderly people suffering from chest pain. Ninety-four people were hospitalized, and at least 20 had series injuries.


Early reports said something had gone wrong with the ship’s steering but some passengers said the ship was listing for some time before it suddenly rolled to one side. Passenger Martha Lynn George said she noticed something wrong with her bed and then realized the whole ship was slightly tilted. Later George said she and her husband were in the buffet area when the vessel rolled.


The incident reminds us of the Eastland disaster in Chicago. That vessel, also believed to be designed with too many decks for passengers, tipped in her mooring after 2,408 passengers boarded it. The death count after that tragedy was 835, marking it as one of the worst disasters in Great Lakes maritime history.


The Eastland was only 265 feet in length, which made it a large passenger liner serving the lakes in its day. At the time the competition for both luxury and speed in lake travel was stiff, so it was designed for speed. The hull was just 35 feet wide, making it about two feet thinner than most other ships of its class at the time.


While the vessel served for several years before the accident without incident, the Eastland was labeled by sailors who served her decks as a “cranky” and “hoodoo” ship that was top heavy and considered dangerous.


John Adams, chief engineer on a rival steamer, City of South Haven, said he remembered a time in 1906 when the Eastland nearly capsized with a full load of passengers in the middle of Lake Michigan. Adams said his ship was steaming just behind the Eastland when a cold wind suddenly developed out of the north and deck passengers all moved to the lee side of the Eastland. “We saw her suddenly list to one side,” he said. “The Eastland reduced its speed and after about a half hour she was again righted. We expected to see her capsize at any moment.”


That Princess, Carnival and other cruise line companies are building monster ships with multiple decks reaching as high as the weight of the hull allows, makes these vessels not only look aesthetically ugly, but they clearly appear to be disasters waiting to happen.


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