fireThe recent spate of cruise ship catastrophes has caught the attention of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has announced that it will hold a public forum on cruise ship safety and oversight on March 25-26 in Washington.

"Cruising is a rapidly growing segment of leisure travel and carried a record 20-million-plus passengers in 2012," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "We are convening this forum to learn more about the international cruise ship industry - from vessel construction to vessel evacuation - and all of the significant operational and oversight activities in between."

In the latest incident, 630 passengers and 54 crew members aboard the Royal Caribbean’s “Explorer of the Seas” experienced vomiting, pain and diarrhea while on a ten-day trip through the Caribbean. Those numbers could have been worse; the ship carried 3,050 passengers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said if lab results confirm the cause of the outbreak to be norovirus, it would be the largest such outbreak in two decades – but not the only one. A norovirus outbreak on a Carnival ship in 2006 sickened nearly 700 people.

Contagion isn’t the only risk for those who venture out on the high seas via cruise ships. In February of last year, more than 4,000 pasengers aboard Carnival’s “Triumph” were stranded for four days – without benefit of air conditioning, lights and working toilets – after a fire damaged the ship’s power. The ship was eventually towed into Mobile Alabama.
Carnival is facing an array of lawsuits and allegations that the company’s entire fleet had generator fire hazards which had not been abated.

The NTSB forum, Cruise Ships: Examining Safety, Operations and Oversight, will review the regulatory framework, ship design and fire protection, operations and corporate oversight of cruise ships. It will also explore some recent high-profile incidents. The NTSB says the goal is to encourage dialogue among industry stakeholders, regulators, and the general public to better understand cruise ship safety and oversight. Participants will include regulators such as the U.S. Coast Guard, vessel owners and operators, researchers and industry groups.