The news is the damage to the Regent Seven Seas Voyager’s starboard azipod was far more extensive than thought. There was an catastrophic electrical failure in the pod (not the ship) and will require the ship to be taken out of service when it reaches Rome (on a reduced port schedule departing Dubai today) until, possibly, May 21, 2009.
The problem was thought to be damage associated with a seal that failed after a fishing net wrapped itself around and in the pod (an electric motor which turns propeller-type blades, but can rotate 180 degrees and provides excellent maneuverability) shortly after the ship left Singapore. Regent was able to remove the fishing net, but with the damaged seal water entered the pod and left it inoperable. After limping into Dubai a watertight cocoon was constructed around the pod and repairs were attempted to replace the seal and, hopefully, prove all that was necessary. (I do not yet know the specifics of the attempted repair efforts, but that at this point is more or less simply prurient interest.)
What has been determined is that the damage to the pod as a result of the failed seal (and obviously some other factors, discussed below) was more than transient or limited. The pod’s electrical systems must effectively be rebuilt. As a result the ship must be moved to a drydock to have the pod (or its major components) removed and rebuilt, and then reinstalled. Because this is all custom work (you can’t buy all the parts off the shelf) some of the parts cannot be re-manufactured until they are removed from the damaged pod. In fact, a complete inventory of which parts can be re-used, which need to be re-manufactured and which need to be replaced probably cannot be fullly determined until the unit is taken apart.
The next obvious question is: “Isn’t there another pod lying around…possibly to be used on another ship that really doesn’t need it right now in its construction…that can simply be bought and installed?” The short answer is, “No”. The reason, from the information available to me, is that it takes approximately 18 months to build a pod from scratch. That means even if another ship was able to delay the installation of its pod (assuming, of course, the donor pod was compatible!), an 18 month period is just too long. And no owner is going to swap out the newest, latest, greatest pod for a 6 year old rebuilt one.
This is a very disheartening situation for Regent Seven Seas, which just expended $40,000,000 refurbishing the Voyager and Mariner. The ripple effect is going to be very significant. And, of course, while treating its directly effected passengers fairly is one thing, finding ways to (a) maintain and create good will; (b) not lose passengers to other cruise lines like Seabourn and Crystal Cruises; and, (c) not further incur huge financial burdens that require modification of the product it promises to deliver is going to be an enormous challenge.
Now, all that said, I have some serious questions about how the damage to the pod became so severe. Let’s face it, we have all heard about pod failures before, but those failures were related to failed bearings and/or seals. They were not about catastrophic electrical failures.
I speak with some knowledge, but not enough to be an expert. Usually these sort of systems have protections built in to prevent catastrophic failures. They do not always work, but the tend to exist. I think there is going to be some very hard analysis as to what occurred to first alert the captain and crew of the problem with the pod, what they did and if they tried to “fix” the problem by employing the wrong techniques. I am guessing here (and please remember it is my guess with very little information!!) that rather than the pod being immediately shut down it was continued to be run in an effort to break the encumbrance (now known to be fishing net). Doing that with the the seal having failed and the electrical system flooded could have resulted in the current situation. I do not know, so please do not report this as fact.
For now, a final point: Things may wind up being better than presently assumed. Possibly things will take less time. Maybe some additional work can be done on Voyager (though I don’t think anything had been planned) even if it is just changing out some carpeting and fixing a few things that we, as passengers, never knew needed to be fixed.