Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Queen Mary 2: A Village At Sea

The Queen Mary 2 in San Francisco Bay. Photo by Mila Zinkova.

This month marks eight years since the christening of the Queen Mary 2, the flagship of the Cunard fleet and the first true ocean liner built since 1969. In the aftermath of the Costa Concordia tragedy, many are asking whether large passenger ships can ever be considered inherently safe. But these large passenger ships are huge engineering projects bringing together thousands of people. As one of the responders to the Costa Concordia grounding has noted, they are are really floating villages, and every village has illness, deaths, and environmental impact. Even the QM2, built to ocean liner standards and thus arguably one of the safest passenger vessels in the world, has had its share of human tragedy.

Some illness and even death is to be anticipated when you get this many people together. The QM2 carries a complete small hospital, with surgeries (operating rooms), guest wards, and x-ray capabilities. Like most large cruise ships, the she is even equipped with a small morgue.

Before construction of the ship was even completed, sixteen people were killed and 32 injured when a gangway collapsed during an event for shipyard workers in November 2003.  After her launch, the ship experienced engineering problems in 2004 and 2006 that caused her to be late for, or miss entirely, several ports. To this day Cunard and Rolls Royce, builder of the ships propulsion pods, disagree as to whether the propulsion design has “inherent deficiencies.”

In more recent years:
  • A partial power loss occurred in September 2010.
  • In June of last year, the vessel failed a US Center for Disease Control Inspection, the first time in three years a vessel from a major cruise line had done so.
  • Also in mid-2011, British authorities opened in investigation into allegations a crewmember was sexually molesting children on the QM2 and other Cunard vessels.
  • An engine room fire in October 2011 was extinguished by the crew without any injuries.

Like any village, the Queen Mary 2 has its problems, but marriage is also a part of village life.  Late last year, Cunard announced it would re-flag its ships in Bermuda so marriages could be performed on board, something British law currently forbids.

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