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'Listing' of cruise ship not isolated

Jul 21, 2006 | South Florida Sun-Sentinel The sudden tilt that threw passengers across the deck of a cruise ship this week appears to be the most severe of seven such incidents during the past year.

The accidents occurred on ships run by three major cruise lines, including Princess Cruises, which operates the month-old Crown Princess which sent more than 90 people to the hospital Tuesday as it lurched to the side about 11 miles out of Port Canaveral.

On Thursday afternoon, the Crown Princess headed to its home port of New York after being cleared by the U.S. Coast Guard. It is scheduled to set sail on a seven-day cruise Saturday.

The incidents, described on a cruise Web site and confirmed by some cruise-line officials, raise the issue of whether such accidents are more frequent than industry trade groups contend. They also underscore the fear and danger experienced by some passengers.

"The recent listing of the Crown Princess is an uncommon occurrence for cruise ships," the International Council of Cruise Lines said Wednesday in a statement.

But earlier this year, 27 passengers were hurt on a Princess Cruises ship after a sudden list caused by the captain. In another case, a computer glitch on the Carnival Legend last July caused the ship to list 14 degrees to the side, an angle similar to the list on the Crown Princess. There were minor injuries, Miami-based Carnival Corp. said.

One reason for uncertainty about the number of such incidents is that no one keeps an official count of them. But the Web site lists 11 cases since 2002, including the seven since 2005.

Cruise lines aren't required to report them, said Coast Guard spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson, except if they cause serious injuries or property damage.

Ships are designed to roll in the waves, but when a tilt endures for more than five or 10 seconds it becomes a list.

Such a problem occurred July 13, 2005, on the 2,680-passenger Carnival Legend as it left Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.

In the words of a passenger who left an account on an Internet message board, a hard left turn combined with a strong wind pushed the ship into a 14-degree list. "(It) felt like the ship was going to turn over; pool water and debris streamed past our window.

"Crew members said they had never experienced a list of that degree," said the account, on, which is run by a Canadian professor who has written two books about cruising.

In a statement issued last July, Carnival blamed a computer malfunction that affected the propulsion system.

That is also suspected as the cause of the Crown Princess accident, although no firm conclusion has been made.

Steering, including the autopilot on the bridge, is one subject of the investigation under way by the National Transportation Safety Board as to why the ship rolled about 15 degrees to the right, injuring 240. Earlier, Coast Guard reports said the ship listed to the left, but officials changed that accounting.

In 2001, the Norwegian Sky listed dramatically off Alaska when the autopilot failed, injuring 78 passengers. The Coast Guard ordered the ship to sail without its autopilot engaged until the cause was found.

"It listed way over; the lifeboats were in the water," said Donald Anderson of Evergreen, Colo., who was on the Norwegian Sky when it listed.

He said he was surprised to learn this week that the incidents are more common than he thought.

"We just thought it was a freak accident that would never happen again, so when you see it happen again you say, 'Whoa, that's interesting,' " Anderson said. "It was frightening."

Human error and bad weather also caused recent listings.

In February, a passenger on the Grand Princess had a heart attack and the captain decided to return to Galveston, Texas.

He turned hard at cruising speed. "It was a sharper turn than should have been undertaken," said Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson. Glassware, ornaments and TV sets went airborne, according an account in The Galveston County Daily News.

Twenty-seven passengers and 10 crew members were treated for sprains, cuts and bruises, Benson said. Also, 82 televisions were smashed.

Last October, while offshore waiting the passage of Hurricane Wilma, the Carnival ship Fascination tipped severely. According to a passenger account, several people were injured.

Jennifer De La Cruz, a Carnival spokeswoman, said managers recall a weather incident on Fascination in the latter part of last year but do not recall any injuries.

One question about this week's mishap is why it caused so many more injuries than other recent listing incidents.

Ron Butcher, a former Coast Guard inspector who has recently published a book on cruise-passenger safety, said the cause of the list may be different from other incidents, such as a mistake in keeping the ballast in the ship's holding tanks in proper alignment.

Butcher also said he wonders whether investigators may conclude the list on the ship was more acute than is currently thought.

"A 15 degree list, while serious, I don't see as consistent with the amount of damage that occurred," Butcher said.

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