With the Costa Concordia disaster headlining global news the questions most asked by mariners is: How will that disaster change the cruise ship industry ?
For insight into this question we bring you an article by the US Coast Guard on how a mostly forgotten tragedy changed the face of future rescue operations in this country.
Thirty-one years ago the Coast Guard led one of the nation’s largest search and rescue cases when the 519 passengers and crew of the Dutch cruise ship Prinsendam were forced to abandon ship more than 150-miles off the coast of Alaska after an engine room fire spread throughout the vessel.
Over the course of 24 hours, Coast Guard Cutters Boutwell, Woodrush and Mellon as well as rescue aircraft deployed from Air Stations Sitka and Kodiak would work side-by-side with the U.S. Air Force, Canadian navy and an AMVER-tasked tanker to rescue all hands from 12 to 15 foot seas and 25 to 30 knot winds generated by a nearby Arctic typhoon.
The Prinsendam was a 427-foot long cruise liner built in 1973. The liner was transiting through the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight Oct. 4, 1980, when fire broke out in the engine room.
With conditions too dangerous for the deployment of small boats from the cutters, survivors were forced to climb aboard the tanker and cutters with the help of two Air Force pararescuemen while hypothermic survivors were ferried to shore by rescue helicopters.
The helicopters would then refuel and head back out to the scene for their next load of passengers.
In the immediate aftermath of the rescue, the Coast Guard identified areas of improvement in search and rescue operations which would save tens of thousands of lives in the decades ahead.