Jury sides with Carnival over problems with Rolls-Royce pod propulsion system

A Miami jury has concluded that Rolls-Royce should pay Carnival Corp. $24 million as a result of problems with the Rolls-Royce Mermaid pod propulsion system, which powers Queen Mary 2, the premier ship in Carnival’s fleet. The judge in this case has not yet issued a ruling.

It is unlikely that the judge would overturn the jury verdict, but the judge might modify the award.

Carnival filed a civil suit against Rolls-Royce in December 2008 citing over $100 million in damages. Carnival installed four 21.5-mW Mermaid pods on the 1,132-foot Queen Mary 2. Carnival claims that Queen Mary 2 had multiple problems with the pod bearings. Sets of pod bearings were replaced on four pods from 2003 to 2008, according to the claim.

The jury agreed, concluding on Jan. 5 that Rolls-Royce was guilty of fraud and negligent misrepresentation in connection with the Mermaid pod bearings that were used on the cruise ship. The jury also found that Rolls-Royce provided defective replacement bearings in 2005 and 2006, according to the verdict form.

Rolls-Royce sold the system to Carnival even though the company knew the product was defective and not fully developed, according to a press release from the maritime law firm Fowler Rodriguez Valdes-Fauli, which represented Carnival.

Queen Mary 2 passes under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on its way out of New York in 2004. Carnival Corp., the ship’s owner, says it had to replace bearings on four pods of the ship’s propulsion system between 2003 to 2008. (Photo courtesy Cunard Line)

Another defendant in the suit, Converteam, based in France (formerly Alstom Power Conversion), reached a confidential settlement, according to George Fowler, the lead attorney for Carnival.

Regarding the jury verdict against Rolls-Royce, Fowler said, “Carnival builds many ships and they expect that their vendors will live up to their promises — it’s as simple as that…. It is a pretty dramatic result, in the sense that the jury could have found breach of warranties, but they went for fraud.â€

A spokesman for Rolls-Royce said the company would explore its options in this case after the judge reviews it.

“Since Carnival’s Queen Mary 2 has sailed more than one million miles without a single disruption resulting from any operational problem, it is difficult to understand how this verdict was reached,†said the spokesman.

This is not the first suit against Rolls-Royce in connection with the Mermaid pod system. Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. sued Rolls-Royce and Alstom Power Conversion in 2003 for $300 million in damages as a result of problems with Mermaid pod propulsion systems installed in the vessels Millennium, Summit, Infinity and Constellation.

The suit charged that Rolls-Royce engaged in fraud, misrepresentations, negligence and unfair trade practices. The suit was settled in January 2010 and generated income of $65 million for Royal Caribbean.

Crystal Cruises filed suit against Rolls-Royce and Converteam in December 2010 because of repeated repairs and replacements as a result of malfunctions in the Mermaid pod system. Both suits were filed by Fowler Rodriguez Valdes-Fauli.

Cruise ships have adopted pod propulsion systems because they allow for high maneuverability and eliminate the need for tugboats at most ports. However, different manufacturers have all had problems with these systems.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises has cancelled cruises in the last two years due to malfunctions in the Dolphin pod propulsion system that powers Seven Seas Voyager. The most recent problem led to the ship being unable to sail for all of October 2010. The Dolphin pod system is manufactured by STN Atlas Marine Electronics and Wärtsillä.

Carnival reached a settlement in 2000 with ABB, which manufactures the Azipod propulsion system, for a bearing failure in one of the pods that powered the cruise ship Paradise.

Antti Lehtelä, marketing manager for ABB Marine, based in Helsinki, Finland, said that despite the few problems that have occurred in the pod propulsion systems on cruise ships, “generally, the reliability is at the same level as other propulsion systems,†while adding, “Of course, the pod propulsion system is a new technology.â€

In addition to cruise ships, pod propulsion systems are used in icebreakers, ferries and offshore oil platform support vessels.

The Mermaid pod system is designed to use minimal mechanical parts by eliminating gearboxes and a number of bearings, according to the Rolls-Royce marine products website. The Mermaid system also provides improved stopping capabilities and low noise and vibration, according to the website.

However, Carnival had a different view of the capabilities of the Mermaid system. According to the 2008 complaint, the Mermaid pods installed on Queen Mary 2 “are defective and not fit for their intended purpose.â€

Those defects occurred during design, manufacturing and installation and became evident during operation of the pod propulsion system. For example, excessive noise was found in pod 4 during a factory test. After investigation, it was found that Rolls-Royce and Converteam did not remove packing tape from the pod roller bearings before assembly, which caused damage within the pod, according to the complaint.

Some of the problems Carnival said they had with the Mermaid pod system included:

• Spalling of the “no wear†coating on the bearing rollers and signs of electrical current arcing across the bearings;

• Butterfly cracks on the inner and outer races of the bearings;

• Damage from electrical currents arcing across the bearings;

• Cracks in the exciter frames where they connect to the pod housing;

• And cracking and breaking of the damper bars in the pod.

Rolls-Royce told Carnival that the bearings would have a life expectancy of 139,000 running hours for radial bearings and 179,000 hours for thrust bearings. However, the bearings had been in operation for less than two years (about 17,250 hours) when they had to be replaced. One of the thrust bearings failed after one year.

Carnival stated in the complaint that Queen Mary 2 has to be dry docked every two to three years to replace the bearings, rather than the standard five-year dry dock schedule.

Carnival’s complaint stated that Rolls-Royce represented to Carnival that extensive research, testing and development had been carried out on the Mermaid pod system.

However, Carnival maintained that Mermaid was an unproven, experimental propulsion system at the time it was sold to the cruise ship company.

David A. Tyler

By Professional Mariner Staff