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The Egyptian Poseidon Adventure

Chapter Four


When Marla and I woke up on Sunday around 9 am, we got dressed and went for breakfast.  Unfortunately, the kitchen had been decimated in the Tilting incident.  Breakfast was chaotic. I took one look at the long line and decided I wasn't hungry. So I went back to my room alone.

As I sat in my room, I was beset with a terrible depression.  Visiting Egypt was the whole point of the trip.  Now my lifelong dream had just been dashed.  I was sick with disappointment that we had missed Egypt.  I decided my best bet was to sit in my bed and read a book.  Maybe if I sat still long enough, my darkness would pass as the day wore on.

I was bitterly angry at the Captain.  I held him completely responsible for ruining my dream.  In my mind, I believed that if we could just get to the other side of the storm, magnificent Egypt was there waiting for us, blues skies and all.  But now that would never happen.

My poor wife came back to the room looking like she had just been chased by the Headless Horseman.  Marla was white as a ghost.  I asked Marla what was wrong.  Marla said she had just had breakfast in the Dining Room with the ten angriest people she had ever met in her life.  Marla said the complaints were so bitter that she had to excuse herself or be sucked into the same dark mood as everyone else. 

I nodded.  I completely understood.  We decided our best chance to avoid feeling any worse than we already did was to simply hide from the world in our cabin.   At least we had each other.  I was reminded of Noah's Rule of Travel - always travel in pairs.  Trust me, neither of us would have kept our sanity if we had been forced to face this trip alone.

One hour later around 10 am, I heard something on the TV about a storm.  I immediately looked up from my book to catch the beginning of a video feed on CNN.  My eyes grew as wide as saucers at what I saw.  I stared in disbelieving shock.

The CNN images revealed that Egypt was in the grip of a horrible sandstorm.  I saw footage of sand driven by violent winds that was ripping palm trees to shreds on a street in Cairo. The street was dark because the sun was blocked out.  There were a few cars, but no one dared to be out in the open. That sand would have seriously injured any human who was not properly protected. 

I shook my head in consternation.  Well, I'll be darned.  The hurricane had made it to Egypt as well!   Why didn't I think of that?   Being isolated on the ship clearly had me disoriented.

I could not believe how blind I had been.  The storm was headed southeast.  Egypt was southeast from our approach.  Why didn't it occur to me that the same hurricane that had botched the Captain's attempt to dock in the harbor would continue on into Egypt?

As I studied the video on the TV, I noticed there was not a single person out on that sand-swept street.  No surprise there.  Who on earth would want to brave those conditions?  The violent winds and swirling sands had turned Egypt into a no man's land!!! 

Even if we had miraculously made it to port, what possible good would it have done us? 

Unfortunately, I forgot to pack my Arab garb for this trip and so did Marla.  I shuddered to think what would happen to us.  Unless they gave us goggles, we would have had our eyes ripped out by the sand storm the moment we stepped off the ship. 

None of us could have seen the Pyramids or the Sphinx, much less take our scheduled pleasure excursion down the legendary Nile!!  

I had been under the illusion that the weather was good in Egypt.  Now that I realized Egypt had just gotten hit by the same hurricane that had tormented us, my anger towards the Captain completely disappeared.   This was an act of nature.  What was the point of being angry at a huge storm?   It was pointless to be angry at things I have no control over.   

Disappointed maybe, but angry, no.  I could feel my mood begin to lighten up. I still felt a lot of pain from my disappointment, but much of the sting was gone now that I wasn't "blaming" someone.  It was too bad we would miss Egypt, but it was no one's fault.

I gave the situation some more thought.  My anger was gone, but it was now replaced by curiosity.  What did the Captain know?   What did he not know?  

I thought it was odd that the Captain had not said a word about weather conditions in Egypt.  If the Captain was aware how bad the weather conditions were in Egypt, then why didn't he just tell us?

"Hello, this is the Captain speaking.  I am afraid I have some very bad news for all of you.  Egypt is currently suffering from one of the worst storms in modern history.  It would be incredibly dangerous for any of you to visit Egypt right now. 

Due to extreme winds and high waves, it is not safe to for you to go anywhere near Egypt right now.

Therefore I have decided to turn the ship around and head back out to sea.  Since this is a two-day trip, if conditions improve in Egypt,  perhaps we will have time to head back to Egypt and enjoy at least one day there. 

However, any visit today is totally out of the question.  Please accept my sympathies as I know that all of you have to be very disappointed."

Thanks to the blinding sand, we would not have seen a single thing in Egypt.  In fact, I doubt any of us would have even left the ship under those conditions.   The hurricane was too intense.

Therefore, given Egypt's weather situation, there was no reason to try to dock!

So why did the Captain even try?   That was the Burning Question. It was as much a mystery to me as any Riddle of the Sphinx. 

Our cruise ship was under no obligation to dock in Egypt.  The contract says so very clearly.  A cruise ship has the option to skip any port for the safety of the passengers and the ship itself. 

Sure we would have been disappointed.  Sure we would have bellyached.  But we would have understood.  After all, everyone who has ever been on a cruise ship knows the rule: 

Cruise ships ALWAYS avoid storms!  The safety of the passengers always comes first WHETHER THE PASSENGERS LIKE IT OR NOT.

In fact, this is such a universal truth, it raised a very disturbing question. 

Why did the ship even bother to approach Egypt in a hurricane?

During my research on Cruise Critic, I found another person who asked this same question.

My wife and I were on the ship to experience the 'incident'.

There are several questions that we would certainly like answered, and remain outstanding, and I wonder if any Cruise Critic member might be able to help.

a)  We now understand that the port of Alexandria was already closed when the ship left Rhodes.  The storm which was gathering momentum in the afternoon whilst docked at Rhodes was moving south east - exactly the same direction the ship needed to travel to get to Alexandria. So why did we leave Rhodes?

b)  There were many onboard commenting that the Captain was asleep as the ship approached Alexandria. Is this right?

c)  The decision to attempt Alexandria was more likely that of HQ than the Captain - a commercial decision. Is this true?    (Cruise Critic, Archie, P. 21)

No one answered any of the three questions above.  The only response was this:

How, exactly, should any of us be able to answer any of the questions that you posed?     (Cruise Critic, Page 21)

Good point.  I had no access to the real thought process behind the decision to head to Alexandria, so why should anyone else?  

By the way, this man offered an intriguing nugget of information. 

He said, "We now understand that the port of Alexandria was already closed when the ship left Rhodes."

When I read this, my mind raced back to the two ships moored in the harbor at Rhodes.  Alexis, my guide in Rhodes, had pointed to both ships and told me they were preparing to ride the storm out in the safety of the harbor.  

If this Cruise Critic person is correct (and I have no way to know if he is), then the Captain's decision to take us forward to Egypt becomes even more absurd.

However, I doubt the harbor in Alexandria was closed.  After all, if it was closed, what were all those other ships doing in the harbor?   Therefore this is likely just another rumor.  There were lots of rumors!

Another rumor was that the Captain was asleep.  I doubt that. Another rumor was that someone made a serious error in judgment.  I think that rumor goes without saying.  Given the weather conditions both at sea and on land, the decision to take us to edge of Egypt simply defies all common sense.

Only one explanation was ever given. In words spoken by the Captain over the intercom, he alluded to being surprised by the seriousness of the weather conditions in Alexandria. He said the conditions were twice as bad as his reports indicated.   The man sounded as if he was taken completely off guard!

When I began to write this story, I went back and reviewed a letter the Captain had sent to each cabin one day after the Incident.  Here is a key paragraph. 

December 13, 2010 

A Letter from the Captain

"As I mentioned during my announcement yesterday, on our approach to Alexandria, we experienced extreme wind and sea conditions, beyond what was forecasted. 

In fact, we experienced winds in excess of 70 knots (80 mph) which was nearly double what was forecasted.  The combination of the wind and sea conditions caused the severe ship movement we experienced."

Forgive me if I misinterpret the Captain's own written words, but he seems to be saying that the terrible weather conditions in the Alexandria harbor took him by surprise!

If we take his explanation at face value, the wind conditions in Egypt were forecasted to be HALF of what he eventually faced.  That would be 35 knots (40 mph).

And yet, thanks to Marla and others, we now know the actual speed of the wind was over 80 mph which adds up to HURRICANE FORCE WINDS

Okay, so let's say the Captain was indeed basing his decision to approach the coastline of Egypt based on a poor forecast.  What kept him from looking out the window and noticing the height of the waves?  Or what kept him from looking at the same data that Marla was privy to in her cabin and noticing the wind speed had suddenly reached Hurricane Status?  

Actually, I think the Captain did notice these things.  I heard him tell MSNBC on one of those video clips that this was the WORST STORM HE HAD EVER BEEN IN!

So, why didn't the Captain simply turn around once he realized the forecast was bad?

Or why didn't the Captain check back to see if there was a more up-to-date forecast?

By the way, I have personally been on a ship's bridge.  Back in 2004, both Marla and I had the privilege of having the instruments explained to us by none other than ship's Captain himself.  I can therefore assure you the equipment on the bridge is state of the art. 

If the ship was able to get a satellite feed good enough to show CNN and Turner Classic Movies in my cabin during that awful storm, don't you suppose also had access to ACCURATE WEATHER INFORMATION?

Have you ever noticed an airplane pilot somehow seems to know when there is turbulent weather just up ahead?  The pilot comes on and says things are going to get a little rough, so please buckle your seat belt. Five minutes later, sure enough, the plane suddenly bounces and everyone gasps in surprise.  But it is no surprise to Captain, is it?   He had weather equipment to warn him of turbulence ahead of time.

Are we supposed to accept that a multi-million dollar modern cruise ship doesn't have the same equipment as an airline pilot?

Personally speaking, I think this entire argument of a bad weather forecast is complete and utter nonsense.  It seems to me that someone is hiding something.  What do you think?  Do you agree or disagree? 

One explanation for the unusual persistence at reaching port despite the weather conditions was to avoid disappointing the passengers.  I originally thought this was the reason until I saw the pictures of Cairo under attack by the sandstorm. 

Another explanation was there were powerful economic reasons to try to make port. 

And you know what?  If this was indeed the case, I doubt that it was the Captain who made the decision to risk taking the ship in.  I think his first duty is to protect the ship and the lives of its passengers.  I think someone thousands of miles away in Miami with no idea just how bad the storm really was ordered the Captain to take a gamble that backfired miserably. 

But after the accident, it was left to the Captain to pick up the pieces.  In the end, I bet the reason his explanation made no sense is simple - he was under orders not to tell us the real reason.   As a result, a suspicion grew among the passengers that someone wasn't being straight with us.

I believe that suspicion played a major factor in the coming confrontation 



The incident officially occurred at 2:15 am on Sunday, December 12.   Like everyone else, I eventually went back to bed for a few hours of sleep. When I awoke on Sunday morning around 9 am, I set about trying to understand what might have caused the ship to tilt so badly.

The first question that crossed my mind was curiosity about how much danger we had been in.  Unfortunately, while I was on the ship I had no way of knowing.  However, once I made it home I looked carefully.  As I wrote earlier, I could not find a single report on the Internet of any cruise ship ever capsizing due to rough weather or rogue waves. Yes, there have been shipwrecks - the Titanic for example - but that was strictly due to striking an iceberg.

And yes, I did find stories and videos of cruise ships experiencing the severe rocking we had been through. (Pacific Sun)

And yes, I did find stories with tales of passengers scared for their lives thanks to massive waves (Norwegian Dawn)

And yes, I even found a stories of a few passengers losing their lives to freak accidents caused by the ship being struck by a rogue wave (
Louis Majesty).

No modern cruise ship has ever capsized.  I later learned that these ships are so well-engineered, they simply will not capsize without some sort of accident.  For one thing, the ballast in a cruise ship is so great that no matter how much listing occurs, the weight beneath the seas will eventually right the ship. 

Most people are unaware of this, but on a cruise ship there is more weight underneath the waters than above. Therefore, when it comes to dancing on the high seas, the ship might rock and roll, but it will never flip, flop and fly.

The Poseidon Adventure concept of a ship flipping over is ridiculous.  As I said, these ships are designed to right themselves.   But let's say the worst rogue wave in history strikes a ship sideways where it is vulnerable.  It is highly unlikely a ship would allow itself to run sideways to the waves in a storm, but let's pretend it happens anyway.  The worst thing that would happen is the ship might lie on its side in which case people would have time to get to lifeboats. 

The severe listing (i.e. tilting) occurred during this initial turning of the ship. He reported the angle of the tilt at 10 to 15 degrees.  Countless passengers later suggested the Captain deliberately under-reported the seriousness of the angle, but I have no way of knowing. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the amount of the degree probably did not increase danger to the passengers. 

The degree of the list only mattered because the roll reached an angle severe enough to cause things to fall down, thereby creating all that damage inside the ship.

Throughout the day on Sunday, every now and then the Captain got on the intercom and tried to explain what had happened in terms we could understand.

The Captain said that as the ship approached Alexandria, Egypt, in the middle of the night, he was forced to slow down due to all the other boat traffic in the port. There were many other ships in the harbor that were also fighting to stay under control in the violent storm.

The Captain explained it takes three miles to stop a giant cruise ship.  The rough conditions made it impossible to guarantee he would be able to control the ship if another ship did something unpredictable. He became increasingly worried about ramming into another ship (or vice versa).  So he made a snap decision to turn around and head back out to sea.

This U-Turn allowed the ship to briefly come parallel to the rough seas, an extremely perilous position to be in. In addition, by slowing the ship down, the stabilizers underneath the ship became ineffective.  Now the ship was doubly vulnerable to the power of the violent seas.

One major reason given for the severe roll of the ship was the loss of its stabilizers.  A stabilizer is a giant "fin" that helps to reduce the roll that a vessel experiences while under way.

Stabilizers operate in a very similar way to airplane wings.  The fins extend beyond the hull of the vessel below the waterline.  They alter their angle of attack depending upon the heel angle of the vessel.  Stabilizers are extremely expensive to install.  Cruise ships justify the high cost of using this system because they dramatically add to the comfort of the passengers, many of whom are 'landlubbers' who would be prone to seasickness otherwise.

Most cruisers have no idea how valuable the stabilizers are to a smooth ride until they are gone.  We learned this lesson the hard way!  Apparently stabilizers do not work at reduced speeds.  

Our Captain alluded to a 'mistake' that had been made by slowing down in harbor traffic. This reduced speed caused the stabilizers to disengage.  I had no idea at the time what this meant.  Later a spokesman for the cruise line clarified the situation in an interview. 

When asked about the captain's comments, Cynthia Martinez stated, "The speed for that part of the voyage is a slow-speed leg. When the ship encountered the severe weather, it caused the ship to slow down even more. As you may know, the stabilizers are not engaged at slow speeds."

So it wasn't that the stabilizers malfunctioned as the rumors stated, but were simply rendered ineffective by the emergency turnaround which magnified our vulnerability to the roll.

Another issue that was widely discussed was the true speed of the wind.  When I read written accounts after the trip was over, I noticed the number that the media frequently reported was 40 knots. (A knot is 1.16 miles per hour; 40 knots equals 46 mph).  46 mph was not even close to the truth.

Marla could not sleep throughout the night.  For lack of anything better to do, she kept the TV turned to the ship's very own weather station.  This station reports on time, temperature, the ship's position, the speed of the ship, and the speed of the wind outside.

Marla said she saw the wind speed on the ship's station listed as fast as 87 miles per hour. She continued to watch for the rest of the night because she couldn't sleep. She said the wind speed ranged in the 80s all night long.

The wind speed of a Category 1 Hurricane is between 74 - 95 miles per hour.  
Forget that 40 knots stuff - Our ship was sailing in the middle of hurricane-force winds!!

Quite frankly, this was a really bad storm. I am not exaggerating in the slightest.  
Furthermore the Captain himself later remarked this was the worst storm he had ever been in!
(quote from MSNBC video).

While I was sorting out what happened, I was fortunate to have Marla's brother Neil to talk to.  Since Neil had been an engineer in Navy, his advice was invaluable.   

During Neil's 40 years in the Navy, he spent a lot of time on ships. Neil told me he could only remember being in one storm worse than this one and that was up in Alaska, a place well-known for its wild seas and wild weather.  

When I told Neil that Marla reported the wind speeds outside were in excess of 80 miles per hour, he frowned for a moment.

Then Neil said, "I thought cruise ships didn't sail in the middle of hurricanes?"

Guess what, Neil?  They're not supposed to.

Here's a mystery for you.  I was unable to identify this ship.  I can't explain what happened to it.  From the looks of it, however, the ship seems to be settled in ridiculously low waters.   It looks like someone just drained the bathtub.



I was not the only person asking the hard questions. 

Throughout Sunday, everybody on the ship exchanged information trying to make sense of what had happened.

Many of those questions went unanswered. This created a breeding ground for suspicion to grow.  We all agreed something didn't add up.

Our next story deals with the building suspicion and the Great Compensation Debate.

Chapter Five

The Seeds of Discontent

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