We sailed on Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas at the end of June. It is the largest cruise ship in the world and carries nearly nine thousand passengers and crew. To put it simply, it is a floating city. As such, it has its own utilities: electric, sewer and water. It has a sophisticated recycling and garbage disposal system. But the city is also a hotel with air conditioning and laundry, and employees to manage, house and feed. Finally the city is still a ship to be powered and steered.
I descended below the passenger decks with a small group to learn a little more. Although we all went through a security check boarding the ship, we had to be checked again before we were allowed it enter the control room.
There, a young Polish woman officer, explained a dizzying display of computers and video screens. The control room can monitor all the systems on the ship, not just the two separate engine rooms. If necessary, the control room can even steer the ship.
Three Azipods, propeller systems powered by 60 MW motors [80,500 horsepower] hanging below the ship, can move it in any direction, backwards, forwards, sideways or even in circles. Six generators produce 92 megawatts each. The ship can reach a speed of 25.1 knots. We were told they never turn at full speed – it would flip the guests out of the swimming pools.
At full speed, these powerful systems consume a gallon of fuel for every 45 feet the ship moves. It consumes 16 metric tons of fuel per hour.
“I-95,” named after the long East Coast U.S. interstate highway, runs from one end of the ship to the other. It was a busy place, but the traffic gets particularly heavy when the ship is in port.
The crew has rooms off I-95. Most are in 2-person cabins; some have singles; married couples are allowed and accommodated. A typical employee “contract” is six months, and most crew relationships do not last beyond a contract.
There is an on-board human relations department. Crew members often work 12-hour days, are paid every other week and have some benefits such as a 401(k) plan to save for retirement. The crew came from an estimated 60 different countries. Language training is available on computers. The crew has their own dining room, gym, laundry and three bars. A bulletin board has job posting and training. We were told it is the company policy to hire from within and train for upward mobility.
Another bulletin board listed “activities” for the crew including use of the water slides and 10-story sliding board Abyss on port days. They can also rent bikes to use in port.
A rare American officer [most seem to be Greek or Scandinavian], the Environmental Officer, took us on a tour of her area. She is responsible for water production, heating and air conditioning, plumbing and waste treatment.
A desalinization plant can produce 4100 tons of fresh water in 24 hours. On average, 2350 tons of water are consumed each day. There are 150 miles of piping, 3300 miles of electrical cables and 1,614,586 square feet under air.
There is one garbage room that operates 24/7. Magnets pull metal like tableware out of food waste, but otherwise, everything is sorted by hand. The goal is to eliminate or recycle 100% of the waste.
Food waste is pulped and discharged in international waters. [She said fish follow the ship.] Similarly, “black water,” sewage, is discharged, but gray water [from showers, etc.] is purified in an AWC bioreactor and tested by both on-board technicians and outside inspectors.
That which can be burned is put in incinerators. The rest of the waste is compacted and sold to recyclers in port. Glass, sorted by color, is crushed and stored in one-ton plastic bags. One to two bags are filled each day. The Crew Welfare Fund gets all money from recycling thus creating an incentive to recycle.
We then descended even further into the ship by narrow steel staircases [a ladder to you who served] to the laundry. We saw 4 washers and 5 driers but it was not clear to me if there were more. There was an interesting machine to fold sheets and gray-blue bins for dirty laundry and white for clean. They have their own steam generator.
Climbing back up the stairs, we took an elevator to the twelfth deck and yet another security check before going onto the Bridge. They must be able to look more than one hundred and eighty degrees so the bridge extends from beyond one side to beyond the other. The actual control systems, however, take up little space. There was plenty of room for a set of chairs and sofas to conduct staff meetings without leaving the bridge.
Despite sophisticated radar systems, there is always one person with binoculars on lookout duty. There are backup computers for everything. Electronic charts [maps] are updated weekly.
A modern cruise ship captain has to be schooled in public relations as well as the handling of a ship. He has a “hotel director” to manage the guest areas, but in the end, everything is his responsibility. We have often watched pilots board ships when we entered new ports, so I was interested to learn the pilot does not take charge of the ship; he still is simply an advisor to the Captain. The only exception is passage through the Panama Canal.
Click on photos to enlarge.
Next week I will describe feeding more than 8500 people every day.