While at PortMiami recently on the MSC Seaside, I had a chance to see
Carnival Cruise Line's Sensation ease into its berth behind us. I'm
always amazed at how slowly and deliberately cruise ships move towards
their moorings. Caution is necessary, of course, because big cruise
ships don't change direction very quickly, and even minor mistakes can
have major consequences.
That is evident in a report released in mid-November on the Celebrity
Infinity, which smacked a mooring dolphin (that's the term for a fixed,
standalone piling, not the mammal) while trying to dock in Ketchikan,
Alaska, in 2016. The contact left a 9-inch hole in the ship and caused
$1.15 million in damages to the vessel and the dock.
A major issue, according to the National Transportation Safety Board
report, was high wind in the area, with gusts up to 40 miles an hour.
Even an older ship like the 2001-built Infinity has more than a dozen
decks, which can catch the wind like a huge sail, especially if the
winds are broadside to the ship. The Infinity was trying to dock between
two already moored ships. When the captain and staff captain realized
they were coming too fast into the dock, they released an anchor to try
to slow the speed. The anchor held the bow, but prompted the stern to
swing around, causing the impact.
At a pre-arrival bridge briefing, according to a Power Point
presentation described in the report, the expected wind for the docking
was listed at 15 to 18 mph. "This was clearly at odds with forecasts
reviewed by investigators, and it is unclear why the bridge team did not
use the most recently available weather information," the report said.
The biggest vehicle I've ever piloted is a 25-foot recreational
vehicle, so I've got nothing but respect for anyone trying to steer an
863-foot cruise ship in high winds. The staff captain told investigators
he had docked the Celebrity Infinity or similar vessels hundreds of
times and that he and the captain both believed the vessel could be
docked safely in 30-to-35 knot winds.
They were mistaken that day. Fortunately, none of the 3,131
passengers and crew aboard were injured, and no pollution occurred. But
the NTSB concluded that they could have been more prepared for the
challenge. It said that "the probable cause of the Celebrity Infinity's
allision (cq) with the dock was the (captain's) failure to plan,
monitor, and execute a safe docking evolution."