Last Friday evening, there were comments on social media that a fire had broken out on the Carnival Sunshine which caused damage to a passenger balcony.
The initial comments, on Facebook, were to the effect that the cabin was located on deck 6, fire doors were closed and a number of firefighters responded to the fire. The initial speculation was that the fire was started by a smoker on the balcony or perhaps from a flicked cigarette which landed on a balcony towel?
Carnival released an official statement the next morning, stating that: "A small fire occurred yesterday evening on a passenger cabin balcony on Carnival Sunshine. The specific location of origin appears to have been a towel on a balcony chair. The fire was quickly extinguished. Guests were advised of the situation and all operations on board continued per normal."
Many people have suggested that the fire wasn't serious because it was characterized as "small" and "quickly extinguished." Of course, every fire on the high seas is potentially very serious and starts out small.
The issue remains whether the balcony in question was equipped with a "fixed pressure water-spraying and fixed fire detection and fire alarm systems," as required by amendments to the SOLAS regulations when the furniture and furnishings on cabin balconies are not of "restricted fire risk."
These amendments to SOLAS came about after the deadly fire aboard the Star Princess in 2006 which burned through over a hundred cabins after a flicked cigarette caught a towel on a passenger balcony on fire. The MAIB was critical of the fact that the balcony chairs and balcony partitions were highly combustible and caused heavy, toxic smoke. None of the balconies had heat or smoke detectors or sprinkler systems.
We represented the family of Richard Liffridge who died in the fire. After his death, Princess said that it quickly replaced the balcony partitions, furniture and furnishings with fire-resistant items and installed fixed sprinkler and fire detection systems on the balconies of its fleet of cruise ships.
Mr. Liffridge's daughter later went aboard the Star Princess and inspected the balcony and fire detection systems. You can read about that here, Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires - Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything? She testified before Congress regarding the need for all cruise ships to be equipped with balcony fire detection and suppression systems.
However, when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended SOLAS, it did not require all cruise ships to install balcony fire systems. It waived the requirement where the cruise line balcony furniture and furnishings were of "restricted fire risk."
Other than Princess, few other cruise lines publicly state whether their ships are retrofitted with balcony sprinkler systems or whether the newly built cruise ships (after July 1, 2008) are equipped with such safety features.
Do all of the 100 plus cruise ships owned by Carnival Corporation, and operated by its numerous brands, have fire detection, alarm and suppression systems on the passenger balconies? How about other cruise lines? Have some cruise lines just replaced the balcony partitions and furniture with less combustible and less toxic-when-burned substances and deck coverings?
We have asked Carnival for an explanation whether the balcony on the Sunshine was equipped with a heat detection and sprinkler system. We will report if Carnival answers us. Did the fire proceed from the balcony and enter the passenger cabin? We would also like to know whether the fire was extinguished with an automatic system or whether firefighters had to go to the scene and manually extinguish it.
Was the bridge automatically notified by a balcony alarm system when the fire broke out or was the fire first observed by passengers who reported it?
Perhaps the Sunshine has such a system. Was it functioning correctly? SOLAS requires that the system be periodically tested and sprinkler heads should be maintained, cleaned and inspected.
It was fortunate that this fire happened in the evening (between 8 and 9 P.M.) and did not break out in the early morning hours when most passengers were asleep.
There should be an investigation into these basic facts rather than a quick conclusion that the fire was small and not serious.
If you are taking a cruise, walk out to the balcony and look up. Is it is equipped with a fire detector (heat or smoke) and sprinkler system? Let us know.
Have a thought? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.