Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

February 21, 2013

No three hour cruise

Filed under: Infrastructure Protection,Port and Maritime Security,Preparedness and Response,Private Sector — by Philip J. Palin on February 21, 2013

We are all aboard the Carnival Triumph.  That’s the cruise ship stranded at sea starting on February 10.  Our comfort and survival rest on interdependent systems most do not understand; and some systems many  actively avoid thinking about.

Usually the systems work well. But recently there has been a rash of cascading failures: Carnival Splendor,  Costa Allegra, and Azamara Quest.  The capsizing of the Costa Concordia is a different category, but not not irrelevant.  In the wider world of cascading failures other labels are applied:  Tohoku, Haiti, Lehman Brothers…

According to CNN:

“We know that the fire originated in front of a generator,” Patrick Cuty, a senior marine investigator for the U.S. Coast Guard, told CNN on Sunday (February 17)….  It appears that the fire suppression worked as designed, Cuty said Friday (February 15). The engineer who was on watch around dawn February 10 saw the fire ignite over a video feed and immediately notified the bridge, Cuty said. Based on an inspection of the engine room Thursday, Cuty said the fire did not appear to have been large.

On Monday afternoon February 18, the Associated Press reported, “A Coast Guard official says the cause of the engine-room fire on the Carnival cruise ship Triumph was a leak in a fuel oil return line.”

According to the New York Times:

The passengers had left the Port of Galveston in Texas on Thursday (February 7) for what was to be a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. They ended up sleeping for five days on sewage-soaked carpets and open decks, with food so limited that they were reduced to eating candy and ketchup on buns. “It’s like being locked in a Porta Potty for days,” said Peter Cass, a physician from Beaumont, Tex., as the ship crept closer to Mobile on Thursday. “We’ve lived through two hurricanes, and this is worse.”

I had hoped by now there might be more public detail on confirmed cause-and-effects.  I can’t find what I consider fully credible information.  But since I am just a blogger — and mostly want to argue an analogy — here’s a rough summary of what I understand:

  • A comparatively small fire — probably accidental in origin — was quickly extinguished.
  • But as a consequence water pumping, air conditioning, propulsion and ship stabilizers were all disabled. The Triumph was left “dead in the water.”
  • The crew was wonderful, according to many.  Most of the passengers were cooperative, collaborative, and creative under stress.
  • But living conditions quickly turned from luxurious to life-threatening.  The second of what will surely be many lawsuits, claims that passengers were “exposed to extremely toxic and debilitating conditions resulting in severe and permanent injuries.”
  • The response, both official and unofficial, was “effective”. No one died. The ship will cruise again.

Toxicity was mostly a matter of ongoing exposure to untreated human waste.  With over 4200 humans in close quarters pitching this way and that, human hygiene was seriously challenged.

This was also a problem at the New Orleans Superdome following Katrina.  This is at the core of the cholera epidemic in Haiti.  It was an issue in several New York high rises for weeks after Sandy.  In the aftermath of any sustained loss of power, pumping, or water, sewage system failure is a secondary — or sometimes tertiary — consequence that can quickly overwhelm densely populated places.

Water is often treated as yet another critical infrastructure.  Water pumping, storage, distribution, and treatment systems are among our most ancient human infrastructures.  But the water system is not just a contributing function, it is also a key supply: for hydration, fire suppression, and hygiene.   We can survive with no electricity, without fuel, and — for a considerable period — even without food.  But lack of water — or the persistent presence of wastewater — can very quickly overwhelm every other human capacity.

I almost headlined this post “Sh*t Happens”.   I am still my mother’s child so I hide it in the final paragraph (raising a multitude of issues related to hypocrisy, passive-aggressive tendencies, and various pseudo-Freudian totems).  But, indeed it does happen, both literally and figuratively, even as we pay our fare and blithely expect a three hour cruise.

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6 Comments »

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 21, 2013 @ 1:41 am

The 1906 San Francisco earthquake labeled a “fire” by community leaders hoping to maintain San Francisco’s economic dominance on the West Coast were partially correct. The earthquake knocked out water pipes so that fires burned down most of the city because no ability to fight the fires.

But of course as Phil points out the event should have been labeled the 1906 water supply failure.

Comment by William R. Cumming

February 21, 2013 @ 1:43 am

The property and casualty insurance business could avoid a lot of litigation if all their policies covered physical damage and not just a single peril or listing of perils.

Or they could cover loss of “water supply” but then they might have to insure rather than pay for litigation.

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Comment by Michael Brady

February 21, 2013 @ 11:35 am

Never been on a large cruise ship but they sound like giant floating hotels (if not theme parks), with no external utilities, that hold you captive precisely when service fails to meet your expectations. Guess that’s why my idea of a vacation on the water involves a canoe, a paddle, a portage bag, and an unlimited supply of fresh, cool water.

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave…” – Eagles, Hotel California

Comment by Christopher Tingus

February 24, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

Washington folks sent me a Michele Obama dance skit w/Jimmy O’Fallon…wow what a first lady so graceful and so lady and Mother-like in her hip movements on Jimmy O’Fallon’s television show….

….so reminicent of other first ladies and wondering if Jackie Kennedy is turning over in her grave seeing all this crap and the likes of the Chicago-Hollywood-Washington Express who have just about driven every nail possible into the coffin of this once great nation…our beloved Republic, once the hope to those so oppressed in far distant shore only to find this half white man leaving Black Americans in the highest unemployment and hopelessness as we see in Chicago and Detroit with 40% of births to unwed Mothers and a WH spearheading the drive to alter the American family in every manner…so contrary to his promise of one term Presidency as unemployment remains consistently high and we are weakened in every way as the Obama flag unfurled and You who are under obligation to the Constitution and tnose who gave Life or limb like those Hillary and Barry so willingly left behind at the “Benghazi Massacre” and You who have failed to demand clarity and transparency which have all been nothing more than broken oratory promises with Barry Obama caring little other than his pledge to Hussein Obama and Bill Ayers and the Rev Wright and others such, socialists and marxists….

I am one natural born US citizen who is not as interested in the Carnival Triumph and the triumph of Barry Obama at the weakened head of a faint nation so perverse in its ways and so quickly failing in every way while taxes and fess and eventual inflation and higher rates as well as late term abortions and so much other crap that the owners of Carnival Cruise Lines have very deep pockets and even some of the same on board this travesty of the Carnival Triumph, they will be on the next cruise, however We as a nation have a national treasure being torn to shreds and while the head is weak, the faint heart from within does not bode well for our nation as a vessel in SOS!

Christopher Tingus
Harwich (Cape Cod), MA 02645

Comment by J Wilson

February 25, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

Nice example of a single point of failure. Not a very resilient system given the number of lives affected.

And just as a complete afterthought, don’t the lifeboats have survival rations (food & water)?

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