Cruise Ship Incidents & Engine Problems Are Surprisingly Common

Though cruise trips are one of the most reliably safe and enjoyable vacations a traveler can choose, engine mishaps, malfunctions and other cruise ship incidents are more commonplace than the cruise industry lets on. There are many reasons for this, so would-be passengers need to be aware of the facts before they make a final decision.

Cost cutting affects cruise ship incidents

In the era of cost-cutting and competitive pricing, it can be easy for cruise ship companies to cut corners on ship upgrades and repairs until it is too late. Ship repair and retrofitting can be quite costly, so it is fairly common for ships to be sailing with an outmoded engine and inadequate backup power sources.

One of the latest incidents to illustrate this bleak reality occurred on the Carnival Triumph, which suffered an engine room fire while sailing in the Gulf of Mexico. The main engine was disabled and the ship did not have a viable backup power source. The result was over 4,000 passengers left to drift at sea for 5 days without power, plumbing, or standard sanitation. The suffering finally ended when the ship was towed to Alabama on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, though the trauma experienced by the passengers continues to this day as many wait for their lawsuits to be heard in the U.S. court system.

"Engine and weather-related problems are very common", notes Ross Klein, prominent author and editor of According to the 2007 records on his site, around 5% of the ships cancelled some port calls or altered itineraries due to engine issues, accidents, or equipment failures.

Though unfortunate, weather related problems are more understandable, since the cruise industry has no say over the matter. The only point of concern is if the captain of the ship insists on sailing and sacrificing everybody’s well being in the face of extreme weather, safety be damned.

Weather problems truly become an issue when a ship’s crew members are not properly trained because the cruise ship owner has chosen to hire the cheapest available labor. There is a domino effect that is not always readily apparent – many crew members are overworked and underpaid and may not even be proficient in communicating with each other, which can compromise efficient planning and evacuation during an event of an accident or emergency.

Cruise ship incidents are related to the use of “flags of convenience”

The "flags of convenience" phenomenon has only made these safety concerns worse, because it allows ship owners to bypass strict safety and labor laws to maximize profit. For the uninitiated, flags of convenience allow ship owners to register their cruise ship under other countries in order to save on registration fees and taxes, and to be almost legally untouchable in the event of a crime or accident.

There is very little recourse for the passenger when the cruise ship’s engine breaks down or when an accident occurs during the vacation. What the cruise ship will do for recompense is outlined on the ticket, so passengers would do well to read everything, especially the fine print.

Public opinion affects cruise ship companies’ decisions

Though cruise ship companies are practically invincible under the court of law, they are not immune to the power of public opinion. In the end, the cruise ship industry is wholly dependent on the public’s trust if it wants to survive. All it takes is widespread negative publicity and a threat of a costly public boycott for a ship owner to clean up their act, knowledge is power after all, which no court of law can ever nullify.

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