Cruise Ship Breaks Free and Drifts From Pier, Losing Gangways

Another cruise ship broke free of mooring lines and was sent adrift - Queen Mary 2. Why do these incidents keep happening?

The Queen Mary 2 broke free of her moorings while docked in Civitavecchia, Italy on Friday, August 4, 2023. Both forward and aft gangways collapsed during the incident, but the ship was quickly secured with the assistance of tugboats and no injuries were reported. The ship was able to continue sailing as planned, with no significant damage.

High Winds Cause Lines to Break

High winds at the port of Civitavecchia on Friday, August 4, 2023 pushed the Cunard cruise ship Queen Mary 2 away from the pier, snapping her bow line and causing the vessel to drift briefly. As the ship moved away from the pier, both her fore and aft gangways dropped into the water.

At the time of the incident, approximately 6 p.m. locally, sustained winds were recorded at 24 miles per hour (39 kilometers per hour), with gusts as high as 36 mph (58 kph).

Several tugboats quickly reacted to the ship’s broken lines, holding Queen Mary 2 steadily in place until new lines could be properly secured. No other cruise ships or local vessels were involved in the incident.

After the ship was secure, one gangway was able to be retrieved, and the ship was carefully inspected before departing for her next port of call, Valencia, Spain. While in Valencia on Sunday, August 6, guests onboard reported that additional inspections were made to further ensure the ship’s integrity.

Queen Mary 2 is currently sailing a “Mediterranean Highlights” itinerary with ports of call in Spain, France, Italy, Portugal, and England. Her next cruise is a transatlantic sailing that will leave Southampton on Friday, August 11, 2023.

How Do Ships Break Loose?

The 150,000-gross ton Queen Mary 2 features 18 total decks, with a height of 236 feet (72 meters) from the keel to the top of the funnel – presenting a tremendous broadside surface area for winds to create strong forces that can push the vessel. This creates excessive tension on securing lines, which can lead to ropes breaking.

While such incidents are rare, they do happen occasionally. On July 15, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Prima broke free of her moorings while docked in Zeebrugge, Belgium, under similar windy circumstances. Norwegian Prima also lost her gangways in that incident, but as with Queen Mary 2, there were no injuries.

Norwegian Prima in Iceland
Norwegian Prima in Iceland (Photo Credit: S. Birkelbach / Shutterstock)

Earlier in 2023, in February, MSC Cruises’ MSC Musica broke free of her lines while docked in Brazil when a sudden squall included strong wind gusts. Again, no injuries or significant damage were reported.

Even while a cruise ship is docked, the vessel’s officers remain alert to potential risks and are able to react immediately to any unexpected incidents.

At the time of Queen Mary 2‘s sudden drifting, three other cruise ships were in port in Civitavecchia: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway, Costa Cruises’ Costa Smeralda, and MSC Cruises’ MSC Divina.

Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner
Queen Mary 2 Ocean Liner (Photo Credit: Wandering views / Shutterstock)

No other ships reported mooring line stress or drifting, but the exact angle of the winds, profile of the individual ship, duration of the winds, and condition of the lines all factor in to whether or not a ship might be at risk of breaking loose.

Queen Mary 2 is the oldest of Cunard Line‘s current fleet, having entered service in 2004. She is also the largest vessel in the fleet by a wide margin, dwarfing both her fleet mates Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth. This can make her more susceptible to strong winds, but her expertly trained crew is well capable of handling any untoward incidents safely and efficiently.

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