It was a coincidence, but the timing was interesting nonetheless.
Just as Cunard Line was reaching an agreement with a French
shipyard to build the largest, longest and most expensive cruise
ship in history, the U.S. Coast Guard was calling for higher safety
standards for the cruise industry due to the influx of bigger
Coast Guard officials, speaking on a panel at the Seatrade
Cruise Shipping Convention earlier this month, said the cruise ship
industry has demonstrated "a fairly good safety record," but
pointed out a number of problem areas, including crime on ships,
marine pollution and passenger medical emergencies.
Cunard's Queen Mary 2, which will be built by France's Chantiers
de l'Atlantique shipyard, will weigh in at 150,000 tons and measure
1,130 feet in length.
The Queen Mary 2 announcement comes a few months after the
launch of Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, which at 142,000
tons is the largest cruise ship in service. The Queen Mary 2, an
ocean liner, will be a different class of ship, and it represents
the latest milestone in the bigger-is-better competition.
A few days after the Seatrade convention ended, the
International Council of Cruise Lines adopted new safety policies
requiring designated helicopter pickup areas and additional life
jackets on all of its members' ships. The policies address some but
not all of the Coast Guard's concerns about the upsizing of cruise
The cruise lines contend that they are adding capacity,
including the megaships, because demand is increasing. And they may
be right. This is an exciting time for cruising, and the Queen Mary
2's expected arrival late in 2003 promises to be one of the most
eagerly anticipated events in the industry's history.
But the Coast Guard is also correct in sounding the safety alarm
before -- and not after -- a disaster at sea actually happens.