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Cruise Ship Fights Fire With RFID

The Ruby Princess keeps crew safe with a personnel-tracking system.
By Michael Belfiore
Apr 03, 2016

When a fire occurs on a cruise ship, it typically begins in an engine room. In October 2015, for example, a fire erupted in an engine room of Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas. The ship's fire-suppression system was activated, the blaze was quickly extinguished, and all passengers and crew were safe.

The engine rooms of most modern ships are designed with fire-suppression systems, but the most effective of these only works if no crew is present. If other means of fire suppression—releasing a water mist, for example—are insufficient, CO2 can be discharged into the affected compartments, which then become inhospitable to anyone caught inside. Crew members in charge of activating the CO2 suppression system conduct a manual headcount to check that everyone is clear of danger before releasing the gas.

Princess Cruises Lines' Ruby Princess
In July 2015, Princess Cruises Lines' Ruby Princess—a 1,200-crew, 3,700-passenger ship—received an RFID-powered upgrade to its fire-suppression system. A personnel-tracking solution, installed as a trial, provides an additional layer of safety. Now, every crew member with access to the ship's engine room must carry an RFID-enabled badge. In the event of a fire, strategically placed RFID readers can identify each crew member's location in real time, so other workers can quickly verify that no one is in the engine room before releasing the CO2. The solution, developed by Italian company Martec, also has the potential to shave precious minutes from the time needed to respond to a fire, further enhancing the safety of both crew and passengers.

Princess Cruises is one brand in Carnival's Holland America Group. "The manual accounting of personnel is still there," explains Piero Susino, the technical operations director of Holland America's Princess Cruises division. However, he adds, the RFID system provides quick, additional verification to keep the crew safe from CO2, saving time that otherwise would have to be spent manually verifying the initial headcount with an additional count.

Part of a Larger Safety Initiative
Susino says he had been thinking about using technology to locate crew members in case of an emergency for several years. "Once you account for everyone," he says, "you have to check everything again. So, I said, 'What about some electronic system to give you peace of mind?'" Such a system, he reasoned, could be faster than the standard double-manual roll-call method, and could provide an alternate method for keeping track of personnel in the event of an emergency. He asked Martec, which has been building safety-control management systems for Princess Cruises since the 1990s, about possible solutions. As it turned out, Martec was already working on a personnel-tracking project for the Italian Navy, which wanted to track crew members onboard its own ships.

In a parallel development, in 2013, Martec also became a member of the MonaLisa 2.0 project, funded by the European Union, which sought to improve maritime safety and efficiency through technology development. Martec had joined as part of MonaLisa's 2.0's Safer Ships program, led by the Italian Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, and specifically focused on shipboard safety. All Martec and Safer Ships needed now was a commercial partner to further the development work that Martec had begun with the Navy.

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