Believe me, cruises are safe. Captain of biggest ship on your concerns
BILL WRIGHT CAPTAINS THE MASSIVE oasis of the seas PASSENGER SHIP. aS PEOPLE WORRY ABOUT TAKING A CRUISE, OUR travel editor mark evans ASKS HIM HOW CAN WE EVER BE SURE AGAIN WE WILL BE SAFE ON HIGH SEAS?
THE cruise company stands were packed with would-be tourists as the Holiday World Show came to Dublin's RDS last weekend. Punters wanted to know about destinations, dining, shows -- and, above all, deals and prices. The Costa incident wasn't even mentioned -- but competing lines in the industry are still keen to get the safety message across.
Few are as passionate -- or knowledgeable -- about the sector as Captain Will Wright -- better known as Captain Bill.
And he should know. He's the head man on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, the world's biggest, and many would consider best, cruise ship. He's also the company's senior vice- president of marine operations, controlling the fleet of 22 Royal Caribbean ships and two of sister company Azamara. What's more he's an expert in the field of safety and a passionate advocate of cruising as an industry.
Speaking from Miami, he says that one fatality at sea is one too many -- but he's proud of the record of the industry as a whole.
"I'm very confident that the majority of our guests, who have cruised before with any major international cruise line . . . have full confidence in the really outstanding safety record in the industry -- and it truly is outstanding." The facts speak for themselves, Captain Bill maintains: "The numbers state that from 2005 through 2010 the industry transported over 100 million guests and there were 16 fatalities related to maritime incidents."
He adds, about the industry-wide figures collated by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which ensures safety standards: "They were actually crew incidents that happened onboard," ading that it's a heavy industry and accidents, unfortunately, occur. But he's keen to emphasise that even low figures aren't taken lightly: "One fatality is one too many."
But he adds: "It's a remarkable statistic and one that we're proud of and I think that shows that cruising is the safest form of recreational transportation there is, despite this recent tragedy."
The captain -- fluent in Norwegian and with more than 40 years of sea-going experience, says: "I think the cruise industry, like similar industries, has a history of continuous improvement."
He reveals: "I've done actually the whole gamut of ship sizes in our company. I was the first captain on Celebrity Cruise line's Expedition around the Galapagos islands. Total number of guests onboard: 94.
"And I've been captain of Oasis where you have a maximum passenger capacity of 6,360 -- 8,458 in total with crew. The sense of responsibility doesn't really change ... for me the responsibility is the same, every human life is valued. I have many friends who are airline pilots and they express the same thing.
"You realise you have a huge responsibility and you take that responsibility very seriously." Questions have been raised about how the generation of massive new ships would cope in an emergency, but he's confident that ocean vessels are safer than ever.
"The footprint of the larger ships means there's an ability to build in safety functions that you could not do with a smaller ship.
"I have been captain of the largest cruise ship in the world, Oasis of the Seas, and having followed her design and development realised that . . . by virtue of her size we were able to build in additional safety functions and facilities and systems that we did not have the opportunity to do on older and smaller vessels."
One other advantage of larger vessels is that they have the space to keep life jackets at assembly stations -- known in the past as muster stations -- so passengers go straight to pre-destined assembly points in the event of trouble.
And the crew's handheld PDA computers help assemblies. "I can be in the bridge and see in real time how my stations are being populated. "It gives me a while new wealth of information that we never had available before.
"Of course the last step would be abandoning ship . . . typically the ship is your best lifeboat," he says of modern best practice.
He's such a fan of the oceans, he recently took his first cruise -- as a passenger, not in the hot seat, and believes that cruising is a perfect -- and safe -- holiday choice.