Carnival Corp. announced Wednesday the extent of fixes needed to ensure its 101-ship fleet avoids reliability problems that have caused high-profile headaches in the past few years. The price tag was giant: up to $700 million, or more than half of what the world's largest cruise ship company made in profits last year.
Upgrades to Carnival Cruise Lines alone -- which address emergency power, fire safety and operating redundancies -- are expected to cost more than $300 million, the company said in a statement. In February, the Carnival Triumph was left powerless in the Gulf of Mexico with thousands of passengers aboard following an engine room fire. For five days, the ship was towed to land as those aboard dealt with uncomfortable and unsanitary conditions including a lack of air conditioning, hot water and working toilets.
That followed the disabling fire in 2010 on the Carnival Splendor.
"We've had two cruises that have not been good experiences for our guests; that's two too many," said Carnival Cruise Lines President and CEO Gerry Cahill. "We're making this effort because we are the biggest cruise line in the world. If we're not going to lead the way and say we're going to provide a great guest expe
rience every time, I don't know who will."
Cahill spoke to The Miami Herald from London on Wednesday before parent company Carnival Corp. was to hold its annual shareholders meeting.
The fixes detailed Wednesday deal with fire prevention, operating redundancies and backup power. Doral, Fla.-based Carnival said just over a month ago that it was conducting a fleetwide review, and announced the first phase of the assessment on March 19. But cost estimates announced earlier were much lower: $80 million for expenses related to the Triumph and another $40 million in 2013 for repairs related to the review.
To ensure there is enough power to operate toilets, fresh water and elevators in case a ship loses power, one additional emergency generator will be placed on each of the cruise line's 24 ships over the next several months, the cruise operator said. The cruise line will eventually replace those temporary generators with permanent ones.
The additional backup generators should also provide power for storage of cold food, cooking capabilities and Internet and phone communications.
Fire prevention, detection and suppression systems on each Carnival Cruise Lines ship will also be bolstered, with upgrades planned specifically for water mist systems that will produce larger and thicker water droplets than currently in place.
One major problem revealed in both the Carnival Triumph fire this year and the blaze on the Carnival Splendor in 2010 involved redundancies in engine rooms. In both cases, the ships had two separate engine rooms; one was supposed to operate if the other was disabled. But in both cases, cabling that ran between both rooms was damaged, leaving the entire ship without power.
According to Carnival, the review that followed the Triumph ordeal revealed that modifications needed to be made to the way some electrical mechanisms in engine rooms are configured. The company did not provide more detail on that reconfiguration or how many ships would need changes, but said special components would need to be designed and produced, which would require "longer lead times" to finish.
Carnival Corp. owns nine other brands, including Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, Costa Cruises and AIDA Cruises.
The parent company said "based on the results of the ongoing review, the latest versions of technologies and enhancements will also be implemented on the remainder of the fleet where they are not already present."