Cruise Industry

How often do cruise ships run aground?

Running aground is the second most common type of accident for commercial ships after collisions, but it is surprisingly infrequent in the cruise industry.

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norwegian escape run aground monday while leaving port

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Norwegian Escape ran aground while departing Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic on Monday, leaving the ship stranded overnight before tugs were able to pull her free with the next high tide.

While no passengers or crew were injured, and the damage to the ship appears to be minor, the grounding of Norwegian Escape raises the question of how and why such incidents occur, and how often cruise ships run aground given all the sophisticated equipment they have onboard.

Most modern cruise ships have twin propellers, bow and stern thrusters and high-tech navigational equipment to prevent incidents such as running aground, but accidents do happen.

The most notorious recent grounding of a cruise ship was the 2013 sinking of Costa Concordia. She struck a submerged rock while sailing past Isola del Giglio, Tuscany in January, 2013, and promptly began to take on water, developing a list that eventually caused her to sink onto her starboard side.

The disaster led to the death of 34 people: 27 passengers, 5 crew, and later, 2 members of the salvage team.

When it was reported that Norwegian Escape had run aground off Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic on Monday, the incident immediately drew parallels with Concordia, but Norwegian Escape was never in any danger of sinking and no alarms were raised.

“During the afternoon of March 14th, 2022, Norwegian Escape made contact with the channel bed as it was departing Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. In the early morning on March 15, the ship was refloated and returned to the dock at Puerto Plata, where she is currently located,” Norwegian Cruise Line said in a statement.

“While there is minor damage to the ship’s hull, all guests and crew are safe. The current cruise will be shortened, and the cruise scheduled to embark on March 19th will be canceled so that the necessary repairs can be made,” it added.

Norwegian Escape was under the control of a port pilot at the time of incident, but under international maritime rules, her captain bears ultimate responsibility for the safe passage of the vessel at all times. It’s been reported that there were high winds at the port at the time of the grounding, which led to the ship’s bow swinging wider than planned so that she made contact with the sea floor.

Modern cruise ships like Norwegian Escape have an extremely large windage area, which makes them vulnerable to sudden shifts in the wind, or gusts, while maneuverings at slow speed in close quarters.

An investigation will reveal the ultimate cause of the ship running aground, but it’s interesting to note that with more than 300 cruise ships in operation at any given time, and more than 35,000 port maneuvers taking place annually, its actually extremely uncommon for cruise ships to run aground.

The uncommon nature of this type of accident led some armchair admirals to declare that there was no excuse for such incidents in the modern cruise industry.

“No excuse for running aground in this day and age. Captain Giovanni will have to answer some very pointed questions,” said Navaleye on Twitter in reply to a passenger aboard the ship.

According to industry reports, however, grounding accounts for about one-third of commercial ship accidents, and ranks second in frequency, after ship-on-ship collisions. That’s for the entirety of the maritime industry as a whole, including cargo ships and cruise ships.

Several dozen commercial ships run aground every year, but the last time this happened to a cruise ship (or the last time it was reported) was back in 2019, when Cruise Law News reported on two separate incidents, one involving Holland America Line’s Voldendam and the other Celebrity Cruises’ explorer cruise ship Celebrity Xpedition.

Prior to that, the most recent indicents of cruise ships running aground were in 2017, with and Caledonian Sky, and 2015, when Norwegian Dawn ran aground off Bermuda.

Like the most recent incident involving Norwegian Escape, there were no injuries and only minor damage to the ship and seabed reported. Including the disastrous grounding of Costa Concordia in 2013, that’s five incidents of cruise ships running aground over the last decade.

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