by Chris Leadbeater, The Telegraph, September 29, 2017
While the obvious fall-out from Hurricanes Irma and Maria – the twin forces of nature that have roared in the Atlantic this month – is the damage wrought to islands in the Caribbean, and to the south-east of the United States, this latest period of tumultuous weather has also provoked large gulps of concern in cruise passengers. Atlantic Hurricane Season traditionally runs until the end of November, so there may be worse to come.
This will not be a pleasing thought if you have booked a voyage heading for the likes of Barbados or St Lucia in the next few weeks. And yet the comforting reality is that encounters between cruise ships and extreme storms tend to be rare – and that even when one meets the other, the former can deal with the latter without too much worry.
Oasis Of The Seas – an ocean-going behemoth owned by Royal Caribbean – is a case in point. The largest passenger ship on the planet when it was launched in 2009 (and still the third largest, able to hold up to 6,296 passengers), it was built with an extra-wide hull which gives it added stability in ferocious conditions.
At 198ft (60.5m) across at maximum width (and 154ft/47m at the waterline), Oasis Of the Seas is too big to fit into the Panama Canal but its broadness means it can withstand the most unfriendly waves. This was proved in November 2009, on its delivery voyage from the Finnish shipyard where it was built to its new home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. En route, it moved through what officers recorded as “almost up to hurricane force” winds, and swells in excess of 39ft (12m) – but coped admirably.
This same hardiness is true of smaller vessels. You can find footage online of another Royal Caribbean ship, Anthem Of The Seas – which is around two-thirds the size of its giant sibling – slipping blithely through the Atlantic in September of last year, even as Hurricane Hermine strikes its 14th deck with a surge.
However, the main reason cruise ships do not capsize in hurricanes is that they are not placed in harm’s way. Weather prediction systems mean celestial fury can be tracked in advance, and avoiding action taken. Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line erred on the side of caution this month. Each cancelled two sailings as Irma raged. Carnival, MSC Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Disney Cruise Line all re-routed ships out of her path. The simplest strategy for surviving a hurricane is not to face it in the first place.
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