What seemed to be a tragic accident off the coast of South Korea has worsened as rescuers search the wreck of the Sewol Ferry. Two hundred ninety one are still missing and accounts from other passengers aboard the ship say many people were trapped as vessel capsized and sank on Wednesday.
The ferry is 6,825 tons and has a capacity of 920 passengers. Most reports say 459 people were aboard and that 164 had been rescued while four were found dead immediately after the accident. Many of the reported missing are students on a high school field trip.
Some passengers reported an impact or very loud noise and quick listing of the ship which inverted soon after. The site of the accident is sixty miles offshore (only a few miles, see update below) and well traveled in 104 feet of water. Something very large or powerful caused a dramatic breach of the hull since the ship sank very quickly according to recused passengers.
The shallow waters could hold any number of hazards but few of them would sink a ship the size of the Sewol so quickly. Could it have been a cargo explosion involving one of the 150 vehicles in transport? Sea mines were also heavily used in this area and a sixty year old mine can still be active.
Water temperature is 54f (12 c) at the wreck site which means hypothermia will have claimed many lives of those trapped in lower levels of the ship. We can only hope some areas remain survivable as the rescue efforts continue.
Update: The ferry was a few miles offshore and was mostly submerged only two hours after a possible impact with rocks. The number of missing has not changed significantly.
The National Transportation Safety Board hosted a two day hearing with representatives from major cruise lines. Success is difficult to measure at these hearing but both sides came away with new understanding that the industry is on the right path to minimize risk.
Day two was the most interesting even though several lines of questioning were abandoned due to time limits. One of the final presentations from Carnival Line laid out complementary MOSA and BOQA risk management programs based mostly on training and data.
Since time cut the presentation short, the slides outlining the programs were never shown in detail. A short summary and text directly from the slides is available if you missed the hearing.
The next phase of dismantling the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program began with the announcement that twenty ships would be cut from the total production. Only twenty of the fast, low draft ships have been funded so in the worst case only ten of each design could be built.
In the same statement where the program is cut, Secretary of Defense Hagel reaches out for submissions for modifications of existing ships, modification (again) of the LCS designs to increase survivability, and a new fast frigate replacement.
Parts of the Navy are having serious growing pains which are very visible since the start of the LCS program in 2005. Take a look at the updated program and write your representatives in Congress.
Two sea traffic management systems are being deployed and tested in limited areas. MONALISA is active in the Mediterranean and BOQA is being tested by cruise lines.
Both systems are modeled on technology from aviation management where information is shared freely as part of safety culture. In the more closed operations of ships the openness of information sharing may keep some owners skeptical of the safety value versus strategic advantage. In cargo operations data is tightly held because margins are non-existent and a small strategic advantage is the only thing that keeps the fax machine ringing.
Yes, fax machine, but that's a different story.
The NTSB held its Cruise Ship Safety Forum on the 25th and 26th of March. Instead of sitting through the entire hearing just take a look at the summary of the second day of testimony. The machine captioning of the hearing was performing poorly since accents are beyond its comprehension, the first day summary will be available soon, pending clarification.
Currently some cruise ships are only carrying enough lifeboats for three out of four passengers. The additional capacity is made up by maritime evacuation systems,
MES are large enclosed rafts launched by canister and boarded by using three vertical slides controlled by a system of traffic lights so the next person knows when to enter.
Is a multi-story vertical chute better than a swinging lifeboat deployment? The NTSB board seems to like the idea
New technology is coming to cruise ships. Heads up augmented reality systems and apps to run on your smart device are already in testing by major cruise lines. The benefits of all the data, and media generated by these systems is mostly focused on entertainment.
The power of these systems to act as safety networks is sometimes overlooked. In the future it will be commonplace for crew members to see passenger distribution throughout the ship and be able to isolate and tag individuals who need special attention.
Safety aspects of RFID and augmented reality are the next big safety revolution on cruise ships.
Existing land based technologies are finding their way onto cruise ships and promise to enhance the cruising experience with personalization. Augmented reality and RFID applications are already showing promise in limited testing but a cruise ten years from now could be peacefully quiet or energetically educational depending on your preferences. So, what do cruise lines have in store for passengers in the future?
If you are a worker in a shipyard or want to operate your own fishing or passenger vessel understanding the Jones Act is an important early step in business planning. Understanding the challenges your employer faces can make you a better employee and maybe even an advocate for better merchant marine legislation.
Some see the Jones Act as a relic of the past which limits important global trade of ideas and skilled labor. Others see it as important to national defense and the domestic shipbuilding industry.
Any law that combines legislated monopolies with additional legal measures for workers injured or killed due to negligence is going to be controversial in any industry.
Are we limiting our growth in the global market and placing too much burden on ship owners or are these provisions still necessary to maintain the health of the U.S. Merchant Fleet?
The USS Kidd, a U.S. Navy destroyer is headed to an Indian Ocean site where radar data shows the possible location of Malaysian Air flight 370. The nearly 510 foot (155 m) long, 66 foot (20 m) wide vessel has been involved with the search and carries two Seahawk MH-60 helicopters. The USS Kidd has a draft of 31 feet (9.4 m) and displaces 9,200 tons.
Reports also claim a "ping" was picked up by the COSPAS-SARSAT system which monitors emergency beacons on aircraft and ships. Triangulation of this signal using several satellites will make it possible to find the wreckage without a transmitted data stream of coordinates.
The ship was commissioned in 2005 at Ingalls Shipyard in Mississippi and was involved in the rescue of thirteen crew members from Somali pirates in 2012 when the fishing vessel Al Molai was liberated after forty days of captivity. Fifteen pirates were taken captive with no casualties.
We wish the USS Kidd, and her crew good luck as they try and bring this tragic search to a close. Cruising speed is close to 30 knots which is made possible by four General Electric gas turbines turning two shafts for a combined 100,000 hp (75 Mw) so we should not need to wait very long to see if the plane has been found.
No ETA right now, watch for updates.
Photo Courtesy of U.S. Navy
Update 3-14 2:15 EDT: The ping noted above is a query signal from an Inmarsat satellite. It's part of a data service offered by Inmarsat and Malaysian Air has the equipment on board the MH370 aircraft to respond to query signals, but the airline has no subscription to this service. One ping an hour is going to be the highest resolution we get unless redundant satellites also received the query responses and the position can be triangulated from that data.