As I watched CNN and MSNBC interview passengers disembarking from the ill fated cruise aboard the Splendor, passenger after passenger stated that no one explained to them that the cruise ship had been disabled due to a fire. Several passengers said only that thee was "some smoke." One of the reporters on CNN responded "that’s incredible!" upon learning that the cruise line had kept the passengers in the dark, literally and figuratively, following the fire which left the cruise ship dead in the water.
Keeping passengers in the dark is nothing new for Carnival and other cruise lines following disasters like this. Carnival has the worst history of fires than any other cruise line over the past ten to fifteen years. In 1995, the Carnival Celebration caught fire. In 1998, the Carnival Ecstasy burned shortly after leaving the port of Miami. A year later, the Carnival Tropicale was disabled following a fire in the engine room, and the cruise ship bobbed around in the Gulf of Mexico for a couple of days. These two Carnival ships had suffered previous fires as well. In 2006, a large fire broke out on the Star Princess operated by a subsidiary of Carnival, Princess Cruises, in the middle of the night resulting in a death and multiple injuries. Last year, a fire in the engine room disabled the Royal Princess operated by Princess Cruises, which had to be towed back to an Egyptian port.
In all of these incidents, passengers learned the true facts only after leaving the cruise ship. Following the Tropicale fire, 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 NTSB investigation, the Master 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."
Some of the passengers interviewed yesterday by CNN did not seem to mind the limited information. One passenger commented that she understood why Carnival withheld information from them, reasoning that it was a prudent decision to avoid panic among the passengers.
I’m not too sure about that. We have an obligation to our children to screen information to keep them from being unduly frightened. But treating adult passengers like children is not the cruise line’s prerogative. Passengers should not learn the basic fact that their ship was disabled by an engine room fire only after walking down the gangway.
November 13, 2010 Update: The New York Daily News published an article: "Smoke Screen: Carnival Passengers Say Crew Lied About Extent of Fire" reporting that passengers were told by the crew that the blaze that knocked out power on the ship wasn’t a fire at all.
"Even as thick black smoke was seen billowing from the rear of the 1,000-ft. ship, ‘They tried to calm us by saying it was ‘flameless fire . . . ‘"
"They … didn’t tell us the truth, that’s what I found out when my cell phone started working," echoed passenger Marquis Horace. "They told us it was a flameless fire."
Related story: International Cruise Victims Discuss Latest Cruise Ship Fire
Photo credit: Jae C. Hong | The Associated Press