Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ocean Liners vs. Cruise Ships

They may look alike to the casual observer, but cruise ships and ocean liners are really two very different types of vessel. The large cruise ships you see sailing out of Miami, Alaska, and other cruising destinations are related to Titanic, United States, and Queen Elizabeth II, but have very different missions, construction, and even crews.

Ocean liners came first. In technical jargon, any ship that runs a regular schedule on an ocean-going route is a liner, even if that ship doesn't carry passengers. In everyday usage, though, we think of an ocean liner as a passenger-carrying ship in the mode of the QEII. It is this difference in mission that distinguishes ocean liners from cruise ships: liners go from point to point; cruise ships don't have a final destination.

Ocean liners are also built for the open ocean routes their schedules require. They have storage for more food, water, and fuel than their cruise ship counterparts, and are built for the rougher waters of the open ocean. They typically have more freeboard than cruise ships, which simply means their highest open-air deck is higher off the water than that on a cruise ship. This makes an ocean liner a lot more expensive to build than a cruise ship. The Queen Mary II (pictured above), when she was completed in 2003, used 40-percent more steel than an similar-sized cruise ship would, and cost twice as much per passenger berth to build than a cruise ship. The builders also had to settle for fewer premium "balcony staterooms" than a cruise ship would to allow for the increased freeboard.

Cruise ships have become destinations in and of themselves; it's been said it doesn't matter where they sail as long as the scenery is pretty and the weather is decent. More than a third of all cruise ship sailings are out of and back to Miami via various Caribbean destinations. The cruise industry continues to be a huge part of the travel industry and the major cruise lines are building more ships (nearly ten a year since 2001) all the time. On the other hand, demand for ocean liners decreased as commercial passenger air travel became accessible. The Queen Mary II was the first true ocean liner built in more than 30 years and, with the retirement of the Queen Elizabeth II in 2008, remains the only true liner in passenger service in the world.

The Queen Mary II is the longest passenger ship in the world at 1,132 feet. It grosses more than 148,000 tons, carries more than 2,600 passengers, and has a crew of more than 1,200. The largest standard cruise ship in the world is Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Seas. It is 1,119 feet long, but surpasses the QMII in gross tonnage, at more than 154,000. It can carry more than 3,600 passengers and 1,300 crew.

Friday, October 30, 2009

News Updates: Japan ship collision; UK yachtsmen ransom demand; and other news.

Tuesday's collision between the Japanese destroyer JS Kurama and the South Korean container ship Carina Star left three injured and both vessels damaged. As this image from Mainichi Shinbum/Reuters shows, the fire on the warship took several hours to put out. The fire on the container ship was put out sooner after the collision. See the whole story at

Somali Pirates Demand $7M To Release British Hostages. Here's The Guardian's latest on this developing story. Note how much of a business this has become for the pirates: they are even placing the Chandlers with other hostages on another ship!

Navy Ship Accidentally Fires On Polish Port. "If it's grey, stay away." This item from

World's Largest Cruise Ship Sails For US Port. I just completed an upcoming post on the differences between cruise ships and true ocean liners, so this story from the New York Times caught my eye.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

News Updates: Missing UK Yachtsman; Russian Mystery Ship

Missing Yachtsman: Somali Pirates Are Holding Us Hostage. An update from The Guardian on this story I've been following the last couple of days.

Russia Hands Over Arctic Sea Ship to Malta: Investigators. Remember the Cold War days when "Russian trawler" was code for "spy ship?" Here's the latest from Agence France-Presse on this somewhat bizarre story.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

News Updates

Volunteer Crew Hopes to Spread Healing, Keep it Green. Some good news for a change, this time from Here's an interesting twist on the Mercy Ships concept and a nice contrast to some of the negative cruiser stereotypes.

Warships Track "Hijacked Yacht." Here's an update from the BBC on the story I linked to yesterday. It's interesting to me that this is front page news in the UK, but I really to have to dig to find it in the US media, especially considering the "pirate fever" of earlier this year.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

News Updates

Pirates Claim They've Seized British Yacht. Two things struck me about this story in today's Guardian: the couple is not considered wealthy by Western standards so ransom demands may be difficult to meet, and it seems the pirates are expanding both their reach and the types of vessels they're targeting.

Avoiding Northwest Winter Woes. Boat owners in all temperate regions will appreciate these winterization tips, from the bloggers at Three Sheets Northwest. This link is from the Seattle PostGlobe.

Flogging and Mutiny in the 21st Century: Proudly Waving the Stars And Stripes. This blog entry, sent to me by Capt. Intheweeds, paints a chilling picture of what it's really like out there for many of the world's mariners.

The Hardest Job On The Boat

A friend of mine is a cook on an ocean-going tug based on the Oregon coast. He says he has the easiest job on the boat; cooking and cleaning up meals for a relatively small crew three times a day. The rest of the time he reads, watches movies, and sleeps. This sounds like an alternate universe to a lot of people employed in the maritime industry, where long hours and tough working conditions are the norm. So who has the hardest job on the boat?

Some would argue that the captain, regardless of the vessel, has the hardest job because he or she has the most responsibility. The physical demands of being captain come mainly from stress and occasional lack of sleep, although the smaller the vessel and crew the more likely the captain is to be helping with the more physically demanding shipboard tasks.

On some cargo vessels the chief mate may have the toughest job, with responsibilities not only for watch standing but for supervising all cargo loading and unloading. On large fish processing vessels, the people who actually process the fish on the "slime line" working long hours under tough conditions may have a claim to hardest job. And on cruise vessels the cruise director (or expedition leader, or whatever she or he is called on that particular vessel) deals with guests all day, including accompanying them on trips ashore and being available for questions or complaints all the time (I've sailed with several mariners who came to the passenger industry from other types of vessels and found it not to be the easy duty they'd assumed it would be. Crude oil and dead fish don't complain about the water pressure in their showers). Back in the era of steam, it was probably the "black gang", what we would now call the engineers who had it roughest, enduring very hot, unpleasant and dangerous working conditions.

Some say hardest job afloat is not on a ship at all, but held down by the spouses and families of those left behind, especially by those in seagoing combat jobs. As the saying goes, the hardest job in the Navy is that of Navy wife.

The blogger Snarky Navy Wife has a passionate rant about the "hardest job in the Navy" here. Army wife and veteran Cheryl Harvey Hill is less earthy but just as passionate in her Open Letter to America.

Tony Robinson not only hosts Britain's "Worst Jobs in History" but actually tries his hand at the jobs. Find his exploration of the worst jobs of Britain's Maritime Age here.