THE MARCO POLO; TRAGEDY AND MISCONCEPTION

The Marco Polo at Honfleur

The Marco Polo at Honfleur

No one can have heard of the death of a passenger on board the Marco Polo this weekend without anything but intense sadness, and sincere condolences for the family so tragically bereaved. It is truly heartbreaking as accidents go.

And, despite the hype and the storm of criticism currently being hurled at owners Cruise And Maritime, an accident is exactly what this is.

The Marco Polo was only hours from port, sailing up a storm lashed English Channel at the conclusion of a forty-two day Caribbean and Amazon cruise. The unfortunate passenger was sitting in the ship’s Waldorf restaurant, when a huge wave smashed in one of the big floor to ceiling windows, killing him instantly.

Inevitably, the usual raft of armchair critics have been roused from their winter torpor, and the internet is awash with their retrospective pearls of wisdom. Let’s look at some of these, one at a time.

Why didn’t the Marco Polo run for shelter in a Channel Port, given the fierce weather?

Seems reasonable, until you consider that, in order to reach any European port, the Marco Polo would almost certainly have had to alter course, and very likely expose herself to even worse sailing conditions than the ship was already encountering. Shortsighted and foolhardy as a course of action.

Aft terraces on the Marco Polo

Aft terraces on the Marco Polo

In addition, many ports simply don’t have docking facilities to accommodate a ship with such a deep draft as the Marco Polo. Docking a 22,000 ton ocean liner is not as easy as swinging a car into a convenient parking space.

A newer, bigger ship would have weathered these conditions much better….

To which I can only add one word: Titanic.

The ship was old, and badly maintained

Sure, the Marco Polo is a lady of a certain age. Fifty two, to be precise. What does that mean? Absolutely nothing.

Having sailed on the ship three times myself, I know fine well that the Marco Polo is one of the stoutest, most strongly built cruise ships sailing anywhere. With a hull strengthened to withstand Antarctic ice, she is far more capable of overcoming bad weather conditions than most of the new, high sided modern ships now in service.

I went through a pretty nasty storm in the Aegean on the Marco Polo, and she handled the rough seas very well indeed.

Maintenance? There is no point at which you can maintain the windows of any ship against an unstoppable volume of salt water. Much bigger and more modern ships have had their windows punched out in howling gales. The sea will always be the master here.

And, in my experience, I have to add that the Marco Polo is most certainly not a badly maintained ship.Quite the opposite, in fact. I would not hesitate to sail on her again.

Why didn’t the Captain simply stop his engines, and ride out the storm?

This one is the absolute height of stupidity. Only an idiot of the highest order would voluntarily disable his own power plant in any weather conditions, and thus endanger every life on board.

Marco Polo entrance lobby

Marco Polo entrance lobby

This is a hideously tragic accident. The fact is, we are all on borrowed time and, if we shied away from doing things simply on the rare to unfeasible idea that something similar could happen to us, then we might as well be dead anyway. When you stop dreaming and then doing, you die inside, even if you keep on living for decades.

None of which is intended to detract from an awful, heartfelt human tragedy. My sympathies are with the family of the unfortunate gentleman. They are also with the crew of the Marco Polo, who are no doubt very traumatised by such a sad and upsetting event.


8 comments

  1. Good on you Anthony,,, quite agree, many arm chair critics. This ship was originally built in East Germany as Aleksandr Pushkin and travelled the North Atlantic to Montreal when I was a young man.
    Quote wiki: 1) Most sources state she was used to inaugurate the Baltic Shipping Company’s regular trans-Atlantic service between Montreal, Canada and Leningrad, and later on used for cruising.2) To enable the ships to navigate through broken ice, they were constructed with greater hull strength and stability than usual in passenger ships of this size.

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  2. Quite agree, travelled on Marco Polo last May. Had no complaints but then didn’t hit any bad weather. I am one who wants to see and do, dying inside not for me.

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  3. I also thank you for your wise comments. On another sites there have been many people are blaming the age of the vessel. One person said the unfortunate couple should have spent a little more and cruised on a large modern ship. I guess that person had no idea that most modern ships have a stubby prow, smaller draughts and high superstructures. I feel safer in very bad weather on an older ship that was built as a liner than on a modern cruise ship.

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  4. Can I just take the opportunity to thank all of you lovely people for your kind comments? I felt this piece needed to be written, and your comments have borne this out. Thank you all- your feedback is much appreciated 😉

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