Shortly after the Holland America Line (HAL)'s Westerdam caught on fire this weekend, HAL issued a press release characterizing the fire as "small" and "quickly" extinguished. It also said that it returned to port in Seattle "out of an abundance of caution."
Cruise line press statements like this rarely tell the whole story. We know that this fire was not immediately extinguished by the automatic suppression system on the ship and had to be fought by crew members with fire hoses, but the fire still re-ignited. The cruise line did not bother to explain why the fire ignited in the first place. Was it a ruptured fuel or oil line? If so, did the cruise ship have splash guards? Was it a mechanical failure of some type? Why wasn't the fire suppressed by the automatic systems? Why did it re-ignite?
Carnival Corporation, HAL's parent company and the owner of the cruise ship, stated last year that it invested hundreds of millions of dollars in safety improvements throughout its fleet of ship, primarily in the engine rooms. The announcement was a major public relations strategy after the bad press following the fires aboard the Triumph and other Carnival cruise ships. Did the Westerdam receive any of the much touted safety improvements?
There are many hundreds of newspaper articles mentioning the fire. But no one is asking these basic questions. Returning to port after a fire "out of an abundance of caution," seems like a gross understatement to me. Can you imagine a major airline battling a fire and then saying that it returned to the airport voluntarily, just to be on the safe side?
A fire at sea is one of the most dangerous experiences imaginable. But most cruise fans don't seem to be particularly bothered by these issues. HAL quickly announced a $250 per cabin credit to be used during the remainder of the cruise which is now continuing. The incident will soon find itself out of the news and forgotten.
Photo Credit: Becky Bohrer / AP