Unknown Cruising Tidbits

Our trip across the Atlantic Ocean was peaceful.  Once in a while we would see another ship off in the distance, but we pretty much were alone at sea.  Our rooms were nice, and having a balcony to sit and enjoy the water was a plus.  The meals (in my opinion) were mediocre in the buffet area, but the dining room provided great meals with great service by very accommodating wait staff.

As we sailed across the Atlantic, one day there was a lecture on how the ship operates.  I was really excited, so Dennis and I went to the theater for the presentation.  It was very interesting to Dennis, who is a civil engineer by education.  We learned how the ship  physically operated.  

Because we were sailing to the Bahamas, and going through the “Bermuda Triangle,” there was also a lecture about it.  I was glad to go because when I told my kids about our trip, one son actually told me not to get lost in the triangle!

Sailing across the Atlantic was calm and alone, but once in a while we would observe another ship in the distance. Do you see the ship in the distance?

While on our 15 day cruise from Rome back to the United States, I started thinking about how the ship was like a small city on the water.  For me, as a Human Resources and Operations executive, I had other questions that were not answered.  Thank goodness for the internet.  I started researching the answers to my questions.  If these have been some of your questions, I have found you some answers!

How many employees are on a cruise ship?

It’s hard to find an exact number, but from what I have read, most crew ships try to have a ratio of at least three employees to one passenger.  It would depend on the size of the ship, but all in all, there are a lot of employees on these ships.

The annual salary of the staff ranges around $16,000 to $20,000 annually.  That is probably why there are few Americans working on cruise ships.  The contracts can last several months, and most employees have no days off during a cruise.  I have seen waiters serve all three meals in a one day.  From what I observed, these employees know their jobs well, and they work in unison beautifully together.  The annual salary for leadership on a cruise ship can range from approximately $30,000 to $100,000 annually.

We had one person who was responsible for cleaning our room and bathroom.  He arrived in the morning to clean, and in the early evening to do another once over and turn down the bed.  Every employee we met as we walked the hallways or in the dining areas were very friendly and accommodating.  We had no complaints about any of those who were making our trip comfortable.

What happens if the cruise company needs to fire a crew member while on a cruise?

Being fired from one’s job while sailing has different consequences.  There are probably good reasons a cruise employee is terminated between ports.  If it is for a dishonest act, they may be locked in the brig, or on cabin lockdown.  The cruise line is responsible for getting their terminated employee home.  They can’t just dump the person off at the next port and make them hope to find a way home.  Unfortunately, some cruise lines have made airline reservations with a short time to get to the airport, and if the terminated employee misses their flight, they will have to find their own way home.  I am sure that is a more unusual case. 

What happens if a crew member quits their job during a cruise?

If you are working on a cruise ship, it is not a good idea to quit your job while cruising, because you will automatically become a paying cruise passenger.  If one wants to quit, it is best to quit when the ship reaches a port.  Apparently, people have quit their job while cruising, and they were required to show they had made reservations to fly themselves home from the next port.  At that point, they lose all their employee privileges, and will have to pay for their days on the boat until they get to port.

Are there many deaths on a cruise ship?  How are they handled?

It is interesting to see that as I read several articles on cruise ship deaths, the number seems to be fluid.  One article said there is an average 200 deaths per year on a cruise ship.  In 2019, the cruise industry had 29 million passengers.  I am not sure if that includes employees in the term passengers.  Between 2019 and 2020, a reported 623 passengers and crew died on ship.  Do the math.  It’s barely a blip mathematically of dying on a cruise.  But . . . if a death does occur on a ship, cruise ships are equipped with body bags and separate refrigeration area from food stuffs for a deceased to be put while making the way to the next port.  

What about falling off a cruise ship?

An average of 25 people fall off of cruise ships per year.  When you think about how many millions of people take cruises, that seems insignificant, unless it’s you or someone you know who falls off the ship.  The railings on the ship are very high and everywhere around the ship.  The reasons one may fall off the ship are:

  1. Intentionally committing suicide
  2. Passengers under the influence of drink and/or drugs.
  3. Guests climbing from one balcony to another or on top of railings.
  4. Murder—another guest pushing a person overboard.

If it is known that someone has fallen off the ship, the ship will stop and search.  It must be kept in mind that the ship may travel almost a mile before it can completely stop.  Then it will turn around and go back to the area of where the fall may have happened.  If there are other cruise ships in the area, they may also get involved in helping find this person in the water.  Unfortunately, only 25% of the time are they able to find and rescue someone who has gone overboard.  Interestingly enough, a few days after returning home from our cruise, I read in the news of a young man who fell off a ship in the Caribbean, and he was rescued.  One of the lucky 25%!

What kind of crime occurs on a cruise ship?  Is there a brig (jail) on the ship if a crime is committed?

Although cruise ships do not advertise their ability to handle crimes, they do have a plan, be it a cabin arrest with posted guards, or having a brig on the ship.  Larger ships have some sort of cells, and smaller ships may have other methods to controlling those who may be a security threat to themselves or others, until they can remove these people from the ship.  It is up to the ship’s captain if the person is detained or disembarked at the next port.

The most common crime is public intoxication.  The crew are trained on how to handle such an incident, preventing escalation and minimizing impact on other guests.  These cases seldom result in criminal prosecution.

The prevalence of serious crime on ship is low.  In a given year, approximately 13 million passengers board cruise ships in the U.S.A.  Less than 100 serious crimes were reported to the FBI.  In 2020, the serious crimes on a cruise ship was sexual assaults, with only 22 actual reported incidents.

Who has jurisdiction if a crime is committed on the cruise ship?

Cruise ship security officers are the first responders in most cases.  Decisions to remove an individual from the ship is at the discretion of the ship’s Captain.  If the crime is committed at port or in the waters of a particular country, the jurisdiction would be of that particular country.  If the crime is committed in international waters, the jurisdiction is the country in which the ship is registered.  You might want to learn where your ship is registered.  Our ship was registered in Malta. Hmm, I have no ideas what their laws are.

What if there is a fire on a cruise ship?

It is a requirement that when boarding a cruise ship, everyone is required to go through “muster drills” which gives instructions of what to do in case of an emergency.  You should listen, like you should listen to the safety instructions on an airplane.  Hopefully, you won’t need to do what you are taught, but you don’t want to be in a situation where you need to know, and you didn’t listen.  

Fires are rare on ships, but they do happen.  If it is bad enough, it could shut down the power, it could knock out the sewage system.  Yuck!  Just keep a calm head and follow the instructions of where you were given in the muster drills.  

If evacuation was needed the lifeboats are attached to the sides of the ship, as you see in this photo of the neighboring ship to ours.

So speaking of sewage systems, here’s a good question:

What happens to the waste on a cruise ship?

Food Waste – I found this to be a question as I saw the abundance of food on the ship, and how often I or some other passenger left something on their plate because we didn’t like it.  In this seafaring small city, that can become a lot of wasted rotting food.  So what happens to it?

Food scraps from the chef’s preparations and food scraps from passengers plates are all dumped into a suction drain that leads to a hydro-processor.  This processors breaks the food into tiny particles as it goes through several mesh type strainers.  It gets dumped into where it is all processed.

Human Waste (yes, pee and poop)! – Millions of people sit on cruise ship toilets every year.  Where does it go?  Does it just get flushed into the sea, or is it stored on the ship and flushed into a big toilet at a port?  How does a cruise ship handle human waste.  By the way, the term “poop deck” has nothing to do with the subject of human waste.  It’s actually from a French word, “la poupe,” which means stern.

Years ago the sewage was let out of the ship into the ocean though sewer valves that opened on the sides of the ship.  Those days are long gone.  International Maritime laws has instituted “MARPOL,” stands for Maritime Pollution.  It requires a ship to be at least 3 nautical miles from land before it can dump human waste.  Modern cruise ships have wastewater plants just like a small city would have.  It treats the waste the same way it is treated in your community, through a multi-stage process including biological treatment and disinfection.  To simply state the process, when the toilet is flushed, the waste goes directly into the ship’s waste water treatment plant where it is processed as clean water and dumped into the ocean far from any land area.

So, there you go.  There are so many other questions that could be answered, but for me, I’m done with the cruise ship inquiry.  I plan to keep my feet on land for quite a while.  Did I miss some interesting tidbit?  Let me know in the comments.

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