Trouble---For Princess using Royal Class ships in Southeast Alaska

This issue is receiving quite a bit of publicity up here. The Royal Princess is scheduled for Alaskan service this summer. The Marine pilots in Southeast Alaska are questioning the ability of this vessel to maintain direction under beam wind conditions of 25 knots or more. The Royal has been in service throughout the world now for 6 years. We have been on the Royal and Regal for a total of about two months. The Majestic Princess has now joined her sisters.

It never occurred to me that this class was deficient in this regard. At first I disputed the pilot’s contention. But now that I have looked further into it, I am skeptical as to whether or not Princess went too far on the cheap with power, rudder design, under powered thrusters and fixed pitch screws. Experts disagree that pod propulsion would have been better as the pilots contend and I can see the pilot’s error in that regard. However, Princess better start talking and supporting their position. Or go back to their proven vessels in Alaska waters.

Tags: Alaska - Inside Passage

22 Answers

Regarding the forgoing article quoting the Marine pilot's arguments, some of which gives me pause. Here is a response by a 30 year seasoned ship Master and a lot of the experience in Alaska waters to these questions: "The captain isn’t in charge of navigating in SE Alaska. The pilot is."

"Sorry, but you are incorrect. While SE Alaska waters are compulsory pilotage waters and the pilot normally has conduct (con) of the vessel, the Master remains in command and the Deck Officer in charge of the watch is responsible to the Master for the safe navigation, with advice from the pilot. The correct term we used is courses and speeds to Master's orders & pilot's advice."

"When the Captain or Deck Officers, agree with the pilot's orders they are followed without question. When they don't agree, the pilot is challenged and if unable to justify their intended action, the Captain and/or Deck Officer may take any action they believe is required to ensure the safe conduct of the vessel. As a Deck Officer in Alaska, I countered a pilot's orders on a couple of occasions. Mostly with respect to the amount of helm they requested."

"This is consistent with any compulsory pilotage area I have worked, except the Panama Canal, where the pilots assume complete responsibility for the navigation. It is also noted in the Alaska Marine Pilot Statutes & Regulations."

Some say the large stern thrusters, like the Royal has, only work at slow speeds, below 4 knots, yet the Southeast Marine pilots seem to indicate the opposite, that the Royal is only responsive at higher speeds. Here again, the same retired Master, with respect to propulsion and thrusters:

"Prior to scheduling the ship in Alaska, I would be very surprised if Princess has not tested the ship with their Bridge Teams at their simulator complex in Almere, just outside Amsterdam. They should have determined a maximum wind speed that the vessel can be safely maneuvered. The Captains will be well aware of any limitations and will have performed the navigation/dockings many times in the simulator. The pilots have conducted simulations, but how accurate was their ship modeling and which simulator did they use - was it generic controls or was it a full mission simulator based on that Bridge design."

"However, if the ship does have handling challenges, it isn't because she doesn't have Azipods, it will because Princess went cheap installing FPP, non-high lift rudders, insufficient HP, insufficient thrusters (normally effective below about 4 kts), etc."

"Personally, having docked large windage/low draft passenger vessels multiple times a day for almost 30 years, my preference for docking in Ketchikan and similar areas is quick response twin controllable pitch props, twin high-lift rudders that can be controlled individually and multiple bow-thrusters.. With sufficient HP to handle vessel in 35 to 40 kt beam wind at maneuvering speeds."

That's an interesting read, and I enjoyed it...if that's the right a ship responds under different conditions (most folks don't understand and don't care), who is actually in charge (most folks would be wrong anyway) and so on. I would imagine PRINCESS denies everything, but if Pilots en masse said the thing is unsafe, the brouhaha would be amazing, as you described. What does it mean? PRINCESS adjusts their ports accordingly? doubt it...that would not only cause huge confusion, it would be an admission of serious design flaws. So whats a poor cruiser to do?

My cynical answer...nothing, of course. poor maintenance, health issues, pollution and sanitation on! and im not eliminating me either. But I don't cruise CARNIVAL (not for a long time), already been to ALASKA on a cruise ship and learned its well worth going back into the interior...but not on a ship..(I live "deep" and enjoy it..) We published lists and charts of problems, fairly recently...did it seem to matter?

Yea Yankee, that's the big question, I bet Stein Kruse and other top Carnival types are losing some sleep, perhaps they know how the Boeing executives feel today. I'm not concerned about safety as the ships are plenty safe in my opinion but if true, that the design limitations are this significant, then that means the vessels are going to experience more missed ports and enroute delays than other proven Princess ships average. Maybe Princess will just roll with the punches and operate accordingly. "So what's a poor cruiser to do?" I would surmise they will do what you and I would do, if booking an Alaskan Cruise, avoid the Royal Class.

If the retired "Masters" concern, after reviewing some of the marine pilots contentions, is legitimate------ "The comment that the ship handles like a twin screw ship with single rudder, is beyond comprehension in this day and age. With the computer modeling and simulations available today, the handling characteristics should be known before they even cut steel. Sadly this is the classic example where MBA's & accountants run shipping lines." Then Princess brass might have screwed up big time in 2010 when they elected to go the el cheapo route. By the way, Kruse's background is money crunching, a CFO.

Princess has three of these vessels now and three more in the shipyard, one, Sky Princess, will float in October, another the Enchanted Princess in June next year and the other, still unnamed, sometime in 2022. In addition Carnival Corp's P&O brand has the Britannia which is also a Royal Class ship. That's seven, that can't take a 25 knot or greater beam wind? Wow.

However, on the other hand, if the Southeast Marine Pilots have ulterior motives here, a bias or reasons other than safety in order to distort the facts, then they better watch out as they will be playing hardball with some of the toughest and meanest executives on earth. If one has doubts, just read about the tenacity and years long efforts Micky Arison displayed back when he defeated RCCL and their back room orchestrated deal to own P&O and Princess Cruise Line.

The current Southeast Marine Pilots could find themselves on the outside looking in, after all, a competing organization of other Marine Pilots could be created almost overnight. Personally, reading news accounts about all this, either authors made mistakes or there are quite a few factual holes in the texts. I'm amazed that the pilots felt compelled to breach their contract with Carnival Corp by violating the non-disclosure agreement. If a fight begins, they are already at a disadvantage with a corporation which controls maybe 65% of the worlds cruise ships and perhaps even a larger percentage in just Alaska.

A competing organization could be created....hmmm...staffed by whom? enough "experienced pilots" sitting around without much to do? who certifies that pilot X is indeed "certified"? Folks like that have long histories gaining that experience, and Ships Masters know exactly who they are, and can sit and relax (more or less) when they know the right one just climbed on board...Its clearly a small private club within a club...the bigger the ship, the more the risk..seems like tug Captains are the same way...anyone with a unique and very highly prized set of skills...but then, I suppose no one would've believed all the ATC's could be fired at a stroke either...mebbe I'm giving the pilots too much credit...what d'you think?

Well, Yankee, I asked myself the same question, and it's a good one at that. First rule though is, "Follow the Money". I didn't even bother researching this as I'm sure what the answer will be. Go back to the first rule "money". You start trying to paint somebody in the corner with no way out, you think, like Mr. Money Micky Arison, then watch out for a violent reaction.

Just like airline pilots, always a shortage they say but are there really? Been in that game all my life, even during periods of acute pilot shortages, start up airlines seem to materialize out of nowhere. You can bet full well there are licensed coast of Alaska marine pilots out there, retired or not. Fact is, I know a few. Economic deregulation of the airline industry took place in 1978. You and I can start an airline and fly schedules between Anchorage and New York. Don't have to ask anybody's permission other than we will have to have licensed airplanes and pilots and mechanics, but those are safety issues which just takes money, no votes of approval from anybody else necessary. Same with the marine pilots.

Find an administratively inclined pilot, pay him or her say $475,000 a year plus benefits, stock options, ect., set them up with a headquarter staff, hire a recruitment firm to find qualified Southeast Alaska marine pilots, pay the pilots whatever they want, and presto, you have yourself a loyal Alaska Marine Pilot organization, ready to do business. There ain't no Alaska law or federal law that gives a union or anybody else the exclusive rights to such an enterprise. Now, I could be wrong, certainly those out there who will disagree with me.

But like him or hate him, I bet Micky baby eats their lunch.

Now theres some food for thought...………..I can't sit in a survivalists hooch and wait for the end of the world...but knowing what I know, and what Ive learned...well it can't be un on...and mebbe he'll eat the bear...or the reverse....or mebbe one day the bear'll get US....

Yankee, this could get real interesting, stay tuned, better than watching a prize fight. As I've tried to point out here, I simply am not certain which side here has the best argument. The pilots have laid down the gauntlet though. They say they won't pilot the vessel(s) into Ketchikan with winds over 15 knots, and not into Skagway or Juneau with winds over 20 or 25, at Glacier Bay, where the vessels don't dock, they leave that up to the Masters discretion. They quote Alaska Administrative Codes which are replete with error and contend they trump Federal law, which they can't do.

On the other hand if they are onto something legitimate here, their decision renders the Royal Class vessels useless in Alaska waters. Wow. The Royal Class vessels have been operating for 6 years now. No apparent problems and wind blows in other parts of the world besides Alaska. We have even cruised on both the Royal and Regal for 3 cruises totaling two months sailing. Had high winds more than once, no problems, but that doesn't mean anything either.

I would suggest both the pilots and the Carnival Corp brass take a deep breath. Get together in a quiet secret setting and start to iron out the pros and cons. No booze, light on the coffee, with independent marine experts advising both sides and start talking, negotiating or whatever it takes.

You were doing fine describing the ins and outs...until you got to the deep breath thing. I don't have a dog in the fight, but I am definitely NOT in favor of them sitting down like genteel boyz und girlz and discussing it over high tea. What fun is that? what year is this? people don't do that...and as the Duke would say, "its a sign o weakness"...

Yankee, you asked earlier about training etc. for Marine Pilots:--------- ------ These are the pertinent "Alaska State Statutes (ASS)---- In the event the two factions start warring, pay attention to the "Board" and the makeup thereof. Also included are the regulations, called the "Alaska Administrative Code (AAC)" The AAC are in the second half, I wouldn't bother reading the AACs except that the Marine Pilots, right now, seem to be hanging their hat on the ACCs as they challenge the Carnival Corp.

On another forum other threads are addressing this same issue. Someone posted these statements: "Alaskan waterways are one of the very few jurisdictions where the law gives the pilot precedence over the Master of the ship."------ "I've no reason to question you or the Captain on the facts. But based on the verbiage from the Southeastern Alaska Pilots' Association exchange card they must share with the Master of each ship they board, their interpretation of the statues is a bit different." 

A retired 40 year officer on large ships responded with this: "While the pilots may feel that the Alaska Administrative Code gives them unconditional control of the vessel while they are onboard, in fact, the international ISM (International Safety Management) convention, to which the US is signatory and therefore has passed enabling legislation embodying the wording of the ISM, gives the Master the "overriding authority" to make decisions regarding the safety of the vessel, passengers, crew, cargo, and environment, meaning that no one can question his decision at the time (not a state agency, not the federal government, not corporate headquarters), as he is the owner's representative on the scene. So, whatever the Captain calls, "for cause" cannot be disputed when he relieves a pilot in Alaska. The Master/Pilot relationship is not simplistic, it is a very complex legal relationship, but the ultimate fact is the Captain's "overriding authority".

Thereupon I chimed in with this: "While Chengkp75 has adequately explained the over riding rules here, in short, State policy does not trump federal authority. However, I might point out you have quoted the Alaska Administrative Code (AAC) here, not Alaska State Statutes (ASS). Huge difference. I'm not privy to the history behind these marine rules, however having written AACs and helped write ASSs in a past life, I'm pretty familiar with both. For one, AACs are written by State agencies or Departments, not subject to hearings or public scrutiny and are signed into law by just the Lieutenant Governor. If the Alaska Legislature should find fault with an AAC they can have it removed, but they normally don't pay attention to them unless a constituent squawks. In the case of ASSs they are subject to public opinion, have to be passed into law by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. Often the ASS or referred to as the enabling statutes for creation of the AACs.

Now what does that mean here? I'm not certain. But I do know that the lack of due diligence when creating ACCs has resulted in many sections to be replete with error. To the point that the Attorney Generals Office has declared many of them "unenforceable". To emphasize my point, one time I was tasked to research both ACCs and ASSs that were applicable to the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. I worked in concert with the Alaska Department of Law to accomplish this. When finished, huge amounts of both regulation and statute needed to be revised or eliminated. Long story short, the funds weren't available or appropriated to engage in such an expensive re-write of law."

"I would suggest, similar problems may be in play in this case. If for whatever rationale, the marine pilots do pursue a litigious posture here, then, if they haven't done so already, a request to the Alaska Attorney General for a pertinent legal opinion is in order."

This requires me to cogitate...ruminate, and then postulate...but not tonite...

* is not a booking agent or travel agency, and does not charge any service fees to users of our site. Our partners (travel agencies and cruise lines) provide prices, which we list for our users' convenience. does not guarantee any specific rates or prices. While prices are updated daily, please check with the booking site for the exact amount. is not responsible for content on external web sites.