Many cruise passengers began asking us when the Insignia will sail again, even before the ship's burned-out engine room stopped smoldering.
Of course we don't know. The investigation into the fire is just beginning. Investigators from the Marshall Islands (the flag of the Oceania cruise ship) has just started. The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) flew from Miami to St. Lucia to accompany the Marshall Islands investigators.
The ship will undoubtedly sail long before the official investigations are concluded. I doubt that the official reports will be ready for publication by the end of next year. It remains to be seen whether the Marshall Islands will release the reports to the U.S. public, notwithstanding the involvement of the USCG and the NTSB. Pursuant to the flags-of-convenience scheme, the Marshall Islands has jurisdiction over the investigation and decides if the reports are published. This means that the reports won't be published if the owners and operators of the Insignia (Oceania, Prestige and now new parent company Norwegian Cruise Line) don't want the information released. Trust me, the Miami-based Oceania/Prestige/ NCL people will keep the accident info secret.
This morning, I read a few articles about the aftermath of the fire.
The first article was in the St. Lucia News Online, which first covered the story, explaining that the last passengers out of St. Lucia spent "12 hours in the port terminal with very little food or water," and then another couple of hours in a bus and five and one-half hours stuck on an airplane before they finally headed to Miami without their luggage.
Another newspaper reported that a Canadian complained that the passengers were herded through the ship during the fire and into a warehouse at the port where they remained without water for nine hours in high heat and without any information about the fire. The passenger first learned of the plans to send them to Miami and the crew/contractor deaths via Google. All of this belied Oceania's press statement that "our top priority is ensuring all 656 guests return home as quickly and comfortably as possible."
A third news station interviewed a couple from Long island who said that the fire fighters didn't seem trained regarding what to do nor did the cruise line keep the guests informed.
Amongst the death and destruction, the cruise line quickly announced that it will give the passengers their cruise fares back and a 50% credit toward a future cruise - a calculated and inexpensive way to hook them into another cruise.
But no one is saying anything about the crew members who just lost their jobs and won't be able to support their families in the foreseeable future. No, the cruise line doesn't pay salaries to the crew who are considered to be expendable. Many crew member work primarily on tips and without paying passengers there are no tips. Yes, some of the lucky ones will be shuffled to other Oceania ships, but the majority will return to the Philippines, Indonesia, India, etc., unemployed and with no benefits and certainly no Christmas bonus. A bleak Holiday Season no doubt.
But nowhere as bleak as what the families of the dead crew and contractors will face.
Maritime wrongful death claims are subject to the archaic Death on the High Seas Act (1920). "DOHSA" excludes emotional distress, sadness, bereavement, pain & suffering and other emotional damages suffering by the widows and children of the dead. Plus, Oceania will move to dismiss any claims asserted by the family members and seek to send them to "arbitration" in London, subject to the laws of the Marshall Islands. This is a strategy to make the crew claims more difficult and expensive to pursue while limiting the available damages to the suffering families.
But no one seems to thinking about the crew members or their families. They just want to know when their cruise ship is ready to sail for their vacation.
December 15, 014 Update: We have been contacted by cruise passengers who dispute that the passengers were kept in the dark, or denied water, etc. One passenger videotaped the cruise line's interaction with the passengers in the port terminal and posted the videos on You Tube:
A member of Cruise Critic reports that a "small fire" broke out on Holland America Lines' Noordam cruise ship on Friday, October 26th.
JavaJunkie comments on the Cruise Critic member forum that while sailing on the Noordam, passengers had a bit of excitement two mornings ago:
"Shortly after 10:30am, one of the ship's alarms sounded, and I started to comment that they had forgotten to announce it was a drill. Just then the captain came on to tell us that we had just heard the fire alarm and it was NOT a drill. The fire team should report to the aft coffee machine, and all crew should stand by."
The cruise critic member writes that "there was a very heavy smell of electrical smoke" and the entrance to the Lido was blocked, requiring passengers to eat around the pool.
The incident occurred while the cruise ship was in port.
What was interesting was the casual story-telling style of the passenger's account which contained was no real explanation regarding the cause of the fire. There was more detail regarding the types of desserts served.
Of additional interest was that two other passengers reported incidents during other HAL cruises.
One passenger stated: "We had a fire on the Noordam also; on the way to Florence. 4 a.m. I smelled smoke and saw it from a vent. We called to report, grabbed our life jacket, put on some clothes and shoes and went up to our lifeboat. We were the only ones up there!! the fire (smoke) was in an a/c motor further down our hall. Our neighbors were slower to get out of their rooms and emergency crew sent them to a dining room. It was very weird being alone up there. Luckily we had a veranda door to help the smoke leave."
Another passenger recounted an incident on the Voleedam, at 1:10 AM on October 13th, when there was an announcement about "a possible fire in the engine room" with instructions for the fire crews to turn out, and passengers to stand by. Eventually the captain announced that "smoke from the incinerator leaked out, setting off the engine room alarms."
This morning, the Carnival Triumph lost propulsion in the Gulf of Mexico after an engine room fire disabled its main engines. The cruise ship’s fire suppression system kept the fire from spreading.
No injuries have been disclosed. Carnival says that all guests will receive a full refund and transportation expenses.
The next cruise scheduled is for tomorrow, February 11th. Passengers have been told that the cruise will not depart and they can cancel and receive a full refund or wait and see if the ship will sail later on a shortened cruise.
News sources say that the fire broke out while the cruise ship was sailing about 150 miles off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula, after sailing from Galveston on February 7th.
The ship's generator power is working but the cruise ship has no propulsion to return to port in Galveston. Some news sources are saying that tugs were deployed.
On Monday, the Miami Herald published an article "Cruise Ship Fires Uncommon, Experts Say." The article was ostensibly about the Azamara Quest cruise ship fire, which is just the latest disaster to plague the cruise industry. The Miami Herald's article was actually the latest puff piece by a newspaper preoccupied with placing the cruise industry in the best possible light.
The article's headline "Cruise Fires Uncommon," was attributed to various people who the newspaper suggested were "experts" on the probability on how often such fires occur. The problem with this claim is that none of the three individuals mentioned in the article are experts in cruise fire statistics. All of them are either employees, friends or business partners of the cruise industry.
The Herald quoted Lanie Morgenstein, who is a cruise line media spokesperson. She manages the Twitter account of the cruise industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Organization.
The news paper also cites a representative of a fire-fighting company which is under contract with Royal Caribbean Cruises, and an editor of a cruise business publication who says "as a regular cruise ship passenger, I’m not worried about this." Great, but how about explaining a factual basis for this nonchalant attitude?
The Herald didn't cite to any cruise fire statistics. How often do fires occur on cruise ships? The cruise industry and the Miami Herald won't tell you. Shouldn't that be the point of the article?
The Herald cites no facts but tells you that cruise fires are "uncommon." What is "common" or "uncommon" is a relative concept. It's ultimately a personal opinion based on an objective, rational and factual analysis of the issue. The Herald didn't contact any true "experts" with a historical understanding of how often fires break out on cruise ships.
Just last month, Ross A. Klein, PhD, an international authority on the cruise ship industry, testified before the U.S. Senate, following the Costa Concordia capsizing. This is the third time that Professor was invited by our U.S. Congress to analyze the safety of the cruise industry. He discussed the number of cruise ship fires (as well as collisions, sinkings, and so forth) which have occurred over the years. He submitted comprehensive statistics and analysis of such incidents, from "minor" incidents to large scale disasters. Are cruise ships, as the industry often claims, the safest mode of commercial transportation he posed?
Cruise ships that have run aground, 1973 - 2011: 99;
Cruise ships that have experienced fires, 1990 - 2011: 79;
Cruise ships that have had collisions, 1990 - 2011: 73; and
Cruise ships that have gone adrift or have had other issues that could be seen to pose a safety risk, 2000 - 2011: 100.
Seventy-nine fires on cruise ships since 1990? That's more than three / almost four a year. "Uncommon?" I suppose so as long as it doesn't happen to you or your family while on a cruise. But don't ask that to the five crew members with smoke inhalation injuries, one in critical condition, who were injured in the Azamara Quest fire last Friday.
The Herald ignored these statistics and didn't mention the injuries to the Quest's crew. It discussed only the last three "disabling" fires since November 2010: Royal Caribbean's Azamara Quest and Carnival Corporation's Costa Allegra and Carnival Splendor.
The Herald omitted several other recent "disabling" cruise ships fires, included the December 2011 fire aboard the Bahamas Celebration cruise ship which sailed from South Florida to the Bahamas and experienced a "potentially disastrous situation" after a fire erupted in the engine room causing the cruise ship to lose all power. It was hauled into the harbor in Freeport by tugboats.
The Herald also ignored a potentially catastrophic gas turbine fire on the twelfth deck of the Queen Mary 2 in October 2011 where passengers were afraid that they were going to have to get in lifeboats in 20-25 foot seas in the Atlantic.
This is not the first time that the Miami Herald has hooked up with the cruise line PR people. There is a long tradition of friendship between the Herald and the cruise lines. The Herald's former publisher and chairman was a member of Carnival's Board of Directors. And Carnival has been a sponsor of its travel, food and wine shows for years.
Last month, the same Miami Herald reporter, Hannah Sampson, who wrote the don't-worry-about-cruise-fires article served up a happy-go-lucky PR piece after interviewing Carnival CEO Micky Arison who had been in hiding after one of his cruise ships, the Costa Concordia, killed 32 and terrorized thousands of other passengers and crew in January.
Ms. Sampson is the "tourism writer for the Miami Herald." Her probing questions revealed this insight into the disaster: "We as a company do everything we can to encourage the highest of safety standards . . We continue to offer a great vacation value, a great product, a safe product at a fantastic price . . . People should avail themselves of that product."
Ah, what's good for Carnival is good for Miami tourism.
32 dead and some poor souls still missing in the capsized cruise ship - and the Herald is helping the richest man in Florida, multi-billionaire Micky Arison, sell cruises?
The Herald chose not to interview Professor Klein despite his substantial experience, expertise and impressive credentials. Instead, we have a tourism reporter interviewing a cruise line PR representative who tweets for the cruise lines.
79 cruise fires since 1990. 4 disabling fires in the last 6 months.
One of the dangers of cruising is the cruise ship catching on fire. Most families who go on a cruise don't like to think about it.
But it happens.
A Rash of Fires on Carnival Cruise Ships
One of the most publicized incidents involved Carnival's Ecstasy (left) in 1998 when it caught fire shortly after leaving the port of Miami. If the fire had occurred thirty minutes later there would have been no fire boats to extinquish the flames. Local news helicopters from Miami flew to the scene and filmed the burning ship. The story was broadcast on all of the local Miami news stations.
The next year, another Carnival cruise ship, the Tropicale, caught fire and the ship was adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with 1,700 passengers and crew members for almost two days after the fire disabled the engines. This incident received national attention, particularly after passengers complained that some crew members did not speak English well enough to provide safety instructions.The New York Times reported on the debacle in an article "Language Barrier Cited In Inquiry Into Ship Fire."
During the ensuing investigation,the captain of the Tropicale testified that he was concerned that the engine room would explode. He kept information about the raging fire from passengers because he worried they might panic and jump overboard, according to the St. Pete Times article "Cruise Captain Feared Panic."
Despite wide-spread media coverage, few major news organizations reported the Tropicale’s prior problems which could be traced back to 1982 when a fire broke out during its inaugural cruise. And the Ecstasy had also caught on fire earlier as well, in 1996.
Carnival has had more than its share of fires, with the Carnival Celebration burning in 1995 which forced 1,700 passengers to evacuate.
Between the Ecstasy and Tropicale fires, the Sun Vista ignited off of the coast of Malaysia and 1,000 passengers found themselves in lifeboats in the Straits of Malacca.
The most recent fire occurred last year involving a Carnival subsidiary, Princess Cruises. The Royal Princess' engine room caught fire in June of last year during a Mediterranean cruise near Egypt. The cruise line initially didn't release any information to the public. But a passenger, a Pastor from South Carolina, Greg Surratt tweeted on his Twitter account @GregSurratt about the fire from his iphone on the cruise ship.
Reverend Surratt tweeted that the fire had disabled the cruise ship and a tug had to tow the ship back to port. Frantic families in the U.S. had to rely on Pastor Surratt for information about their loved ones. He even tweeted photos of the fire and the passengers sprawling out on the deck in the dark (right) via "Twitpic" - an application which permits photos to be uploaded onto Twitter.
When Princess finally posted its typical less-than-forthcoming corporate press statement, no one was paying attention to the cruise line. Everyone was listening to Pastor Surratt tweeting away on the cruise ship in the Mediterranean. Fortunately no passengers were injured.
Disaster Strikes the Star Princess
Real tragedy struck passengers on Princess' Star Princess cruise ship in 2006.
A fire began on a balcony and quickly destroyed several hundred cabins and killed a passenger, Richard Liffridge of Georgia. We represented Mr. Liffridge's children in litigation against Princess.
The cause of the fire was a cigarette being flicked over an upper balcony. Some of the Princess cruise ships are designed with the balconies of the lower cabins jutting out (photographs below).
So if anything - like a cigarette - is thrown out from an upper balcony, it will land in the balconies below. This created an obvious fire hazard, particularly considering that the balcony chairs and balcony partitions were highly combustible and none of the balconies had heat detectors or sprinkler systems.
Princess knew about the danger, but chose to simply place a sticker on the sliding glass doors stating: "fire hazard - do not throw cigarette ends over the side."
Hoping a smoker won't flick his or her cigarette butts over the rail is wishful thinking - and Princess had no fire suppression systems in place to deal with a balcony fire. The balcony furniture and partitions acted like kindling wood, ready to explode into flames.
Mr. Liffridge's children's story was widely reported, including in an article in the Dover Post, which is re-printed below:
"Siblings Take on Cruise Line after Father’s Death"
Richard Liffridge’s children intend to make sure no other family endures the heartbreak they must bear for the rest of their lives.
An Air Force tech sergeant who retired at Dover Air Force Base, Liffridge and his wife Vicky were on a Caribbean cruise March 23 when a fire broke out aboard their ship, the Star Princess. The fire damaged or destroyed 283 cabins – and killed Liffridge.
Shortly thereafter, Phil Liffridge and his sisters, Michele Norris and Doris Henry, all of Dover, and Lynnette Hudson of Bear, set up the non-profit Richard Liffridge Foundation in honor of their father. Their goal is to bring about tougher fire regulations aboard cruise ships and to lobby for legislation to make cruise ships safer.
They also plan a wrongful death lawsuit against Princess Cruises, owners of the Bahamas-registered Star Princess.
The official report on the fire, published Oct. 23 by the British Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB), placed the blame on an unknown smoker whose cigarette ignited plastic partitions and furniture on one of the stateroom balconies surrounding the exterior of the ship. While room sprinklers kept the blaze from spreading to the interior, choking black smoke from the burning plastic blocked inboard escape routes.
Awakened by fire alarms shortly after 3 a.m., Liffridge and Vicky struggled out of their stateroom and into a hallway, but failed to reach fresh air. Vicky was one of 13 people later treated for smoke inhalation.
Liffridge succumbed to the toxic fumes, his death at first attributed to a heart attack.
The picture of health
“I said, ‘Yeah, right,” Henry said of the news her father had died of a coronary.
At the age of 72, Liffridge had the look and energy of a man 10 years his junior. He was self-conscious about his weight, so he ate properly and exercised regularly at a basement gym in his Locust Grove, Ga., home, Henry said. Her father enjoyed traveling and he and Vicki rarely missed the chance to socialize with their friends.
The cruise was a belated celebration of Liffridge’s birthday, which had taken place March 11.
“He was at the peak of his life,” Henry said.
“Who would have thought he’d be celebrating his birthday and then have so much tragedy?” Norris said.
Although they stop short of accusing the cruise line of deliberate insensitivity, Liffridge’s children feel the Princess Cruise officials were slow to react to the aftermath of the tragedy. Even though Hudson was listed as an emergency contact, no one from the cruise line called to notify her, they said. They found out about their father’s death when their distraught stepmother telephoned from Jamaica, seven hours after the fire was extinguished.
The cruise line also seemed more interested in smoothing things over with survivors whose vacations had been interrupted by the fire than with helping her family, Hudson said.
“They were focused on taking care of people who were inconvenienced, not on the family of the man who died,” Hudson said.
While the cruise line made sure the Star Princess’ passengers got a rebate for the incomplete cruise and a discount on their next excursion, the Liffridge family had to pay to have their father’s remains returned to the United States, Hudson said.
A start, but more needs to be done
Cruise lines, including Princess, started replacing plastic balcony dividers and furniture soon after the Star Princess fire and are acting on additional MAIB recommendations that include posting extra fire watches aboard ship. The United Nations-sponsored International Maritime Organization also is set to discuss new balcony fire safety requirements this December.
But more needs to be done, according to the Liffridge family.
Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., is co-sponsoring legislation in Congress that would require cruise ships calling at U.S. ports to report incidents involving U.S. citizens within four hours. Working through the Liffridge Foundation, the siblings also hope to influence Congress to ban smoking on cruise ships, except within designated areas.
Despite these efforts, Hudson and her sisters and brother know they’re just reacting to an industry that failed to be proactive.
And although they realize their lobbying efforts and the wrongful death lawsuit, if successful, won’t bring their father back, it may help him rest easier.
“Our focus is to make sure this never happens again,” Hudson said.
“No amount of money will replace our loss,” she added. “The main thing for us is that another family does not have to go through this like we did.”
Lynnette Hudson - Joins The International Cruise Victims Organization
Mr. Liffridge's daughter Lynnette Hudson, who was appointed the personal representative of her father's estate, joined the International Cruise Victims organization. She was asked to testify before Congress and proposed recommendations to prevent other families from suffering through similar tragedies.
Her Congressional written submission to Congress can be viewed here.
Ms. Hudson later boarded the cruise ship after it had been repaired and inspected the external heat detectors and sprinkler systems which were installed after her father's death.
Ms. Hudson is shown pointing to the heat detectors and sprinklers. Although all Princess cruise ships have been retrofitted with sprinkler systems on the cabin's balconies, not all cruise lines sailing today have such safety systems.
In her Congressional testimony, Ms. Hudson expressed her fear that other families may face the risks of a cruise fire which killed her father:
"CLIA tells us that by the year 2010 twenty million passengers will sail on cruise ships. Visions of these passengers flicking their cigarettes over the rails as unsuspecting passengers are asleep in their cabins, with no fire detectors or sprinklers instantly comes to mind . . . "
What have cruise lines learned over the course of the last ten years? Is the cruise industry ready for the next fire on a cruise ship filled with several thousands of passengers?
Maritime & admiralty lawyer & attorney James M. Walker of Walker & O'Neill Law Firm, offering services related to injuries, sexual assaults, fires, negligence, rapes & disappearances on cruise ships, pirate & terrorist attacks, missing passengers, shore excursions, wrongful death and the Jones Act, serving cruise passengers, crew members, cabin attendants, utility workers, waiters, bar tenders, ship doctors and cleaners on cruise ships worldwide.
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