FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Accidents like what happened to the Costa Concordia in Italy have made headlines recently, making some vacationers uncomfortable about taking a cruise. But right here in South Florida, the U.S. Coast Guard has started a new school to make sure they catch problems before cruise ships set sail.
It's eight on a Thursday morning and passengers of the Royal Caribbean ship "Liberty of the Seas" are just now dis-embarking. But as their vacation ends, 25 students from the Coast Guard's Cruise Ship Center for Expertise board to begin a hands-on education with this ship as their classroom.
The Coast Guard tour storage rooms, inspect kitchens, and check out the mechanics of the ship, all things you will also find on the Coast Guard inspection website. If this was a normal inspection, inspectors would be on the ship all day looking for anything that could put the ship's voyage in jeopardy.
All of those inspection reports are online and we looked through them for every ship leaving out of Tampa, Port Canaveral, Fort Lauderdale and Miami. We found citations for pollution, engine problems, and problems with backup generators. For most problems the Coast Guard found, the cruise line fixed it on the spot.
"There are a lot of areas we need to put eyes on and look at," said Cruise Ship Center for Expertise supervisor, Commander Buddy Reams. "And the systems we are interested in looking at, fire safety, life saving, they are scattered throughout the ship. So there is the need to walk to get as much familiarity as you can with the entire ship to see whether or not those systems are being maintained or operating properly."
When inspectors come on the ship they're not just going through a check list. They're looking all around trying to see if the things they see could interfere with your safety.
"So obviously on a ship the size of the one behind us, depending on the number of people you have inspecting it can make for long days because you are trying to get as much visibility on the ship as you can," said Commander Reams.
The students in this class aren't just from the Coast Guard, they also come from the cruise industry, those who want to further their knowledge of safety.
"We take safety extremely seriously," Royal Caribbean's Vice President of Environmental Compliance and Maritime Safety, Richard Pruitt, told us. "We have a large cadre of engineers who are maintaining the various equipment on board and we have a watch engineer who is monitoring thousands of sensors in the engine room and all the technical systems to make sure they stay in a safe and optimal range."
He says the cruise line works with the Coast Guard from the moment it starts thinking about building a new ship, to the moment it sets sail for your trip.
"We're not just concerned with our guest safety. We have crew members that we think of as family and our interest in protecting their safety is at the top of our list," Pruitt added.
So the next time you board your ship and are checking out everything from the buffet to the pool, know that there are a lot of people looking out for your safety.
The cruise industry told WINK that it's not just checked out by the Coast Guard, but also by the commissioning service that issues their insurance and by the Centers for Disease Control for health issues. Click on the links below for more information.
Coast Guard inspection search
CDC inspection reports