Cruise Law News was featured in an article yesterday about the Carnival Splendor fire and the new Coast Guard marine bulletins criticizing the cruise line’s fire suppression system which malfunctioned. The article is by Joel Siegfried in the National Examiner entitled "Coast Guard Blasts Carnival Splendor for Fire Negligence." The Examiner is one of the newer and very popular internet newspapers, with a readership of around 1,000,000.
The Examiner also has an interesting photo slideshow showing the defective fire suppression system on the Carnival cruise ship. Here is the article unedited:
Two just released reports by the United States Coast Guard are highly critical of the Carnival Splendor concerning a fire at sea which disabled the vessel on November 8, 2010. Upon learning of this report, many of the passengers who were aboard the Carnival Splendor "Cruise to Nowhere" were incensed about the ship’s inability to properly manage an automated emergency fire suppression system, which was reported on a KGTV interview segment on Friday, December 24, 2010.
To gain insights into this incident, we contacted Miami Florida based maritime attorney James Walker, who also writes the Cruise Law News Blog. Mr. Walker previously advised passengers not to sue Carnival Cruise Lines over this latest incident, even though the Company has a long history of shipboard fires, cited in his comprehensive article "Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires – Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?"
For Carnival Cruise Line alone, these have included a fire on the Carnival Ecstasy, shortly after leaving leaving Miami on July 20, 1998, that was extinguished by fire boats, causing damages exceeding $17 million; the Carnival Tropicale in September 1999, which left the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico with 1,700 passengers and crew members for almost two days after the fire disabled the engines; and the June 18, 1995 fire aboard the Carnival Celebration which forced 1,700 passengers to evacuate.
We asked Mr. Walker to give us his views on the Carnival Splendor fire. He graciously responded with the following remarks on Christmas Day.
"In the 1999 fire on Carnival’s Tropicale there where problems where the crew members didn’t speak English well enough to provide safety instructions. So here we are over 10 years later with another breakdown in communication with the fire instruction manual on the Splendor written in broken English. Italian officers and Filipino crew scratching their heads trying to decipher an instruction book written in broken English as the cruise ship burns. What a frightening spectacle. No one realized the instruction manual didn’t match the fire suppression system for two and one-half years? This certainly gives the public an insight into the consequences of flagging cruise ships in Panama. The marine safety bulletins reflects Carnival’s negligence."
The U.S. Coast Guard has been investigating the fire which disabled the 113,300 gross register tons (GRT) Italian built Concordia-class cruise ship Carnival Splendor, and have released two marine safety alerts dated December 21, 2010, ominously titled "Wrong Directions: A Recipe for Failure" and "Simple Failures Render CO2 System Inoperative", about an unnamed vessel, but clearly about the Carnival Splendor. The Coast Guard has confirmed that fact to industry publication Professional Mariner.
According to the reports, the two alerts each "address critical concerns uncovered during an ongoing marine casualty investigation and should be of vital interest to Ship Builders, Classification Societies, Owner / Operators and others involved with vessel operations."
Their findings are unequivocal and damning of the Carnival Splendor, drawing conclusions that the fire itself could have easily been controlled and extinguished, if not for numerous flaws in the training, maintenance, and operation of the Splendor’s emergency automated fire control system.
Everything possible that could have gone wrong, did in fact go terribly wrong, starting with the ship’s Fire Instruction Manual (FIM) which had incorrect, outdated, or erroneous instructions, illustrations and diagrams, similar to giving the owner of a Mercedes-Benz a maintenance manual for a BMW, after it had been translated from German into English by someone fluent in Japanese.
But that was just for starters. Valves that released carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, which is commonly used on engine and electrical fires, did not open, and completely failed to release the gas, which would have deprived the fire of oxygen. In addition, pipes leaks, some elements of the distribution system were designed in such a way as to retain water at low points that were unable to be drained, and caused corrosion. Seals and pipe joints also had flaws.
The ship’s Master, Captain Claudio Cupisti, made the decision to release CO2 from the fixed fire fighting system on Monday, November 8 at about 6:00 p.m. PST. It failed to operate as designed. Subsequently, crewmembers were unable to activate it manually, and CO2 was never directed into the machinery space.
There were also serious questions raised about the testing and maintenance of the Splendor’s CO2 emergency fire extinguishing system, and the training of crew in its use.
Eventually, crew members manually extinguished the fire, but not before it had caused extensive electrical damage, which rendered the vessel dead in the water 55 miles off Punta San Jacinto on the northern Baja California coast, and 110 miles southwest of San Diego, requiring it to be towed back into port. The U.S. Navy had to airlift 70,000 pounds critical food and water, including cans of Spam, to it by Sikorsky MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and Gruman C-2A Greyhound logistics aircraft from the San Diego based aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76).
All 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members ended their three day voyage to nowhere in San Diego on Thursday, November 11, when the massive 1,000 foot long ship was expertly guided into the B Street Embaradero Cruise Ship Terminal by six tug boats at 8:30 a.m. local time.
Before the Coast Guard pointed out these failures, we had contacted Carnival Cruise Line on November 18, 2010 with a list of nine specific questions relating to the ship’s mechanical and electrical redundancy, asking why the fire was able to do such destructive damage. These questions were ignored by Ms. Aly Bello, a spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Lines.
A follow up request specifically asked for a conference call interview with a senior executive or naval engineer from Carnival Cruise Lines, or a written reply by such an expert authority to those questions. Once again, that request was ignored. Instead, we were provided with press releases about cancellations in sailing schedules and the financial impact on the company. We again contacted the Company, and pointed out that in parallel instances in the aviation industry, we were able to talk with company officials, even during times of stress and turmoil for that carrier. Once more, our requests for additional information and interviews were ignored.
Perhaps it is unrealistic to expect a cruise ship company, which is literally under fire, to be willing to discuss their own culpability, especially in light of the fact that the cruise industry has been reluctant in the past to discuss safety practices, or issues of Norovirus shipboard disease outbreaks, and as attorney Walker confirmed, has a long history of mishandling fires at sea.
Even in this instance, the U.S. Coast Guard seems to be walking on egg shells, by keeping the vessel’s name, which is clearly shown in one of the photographs contained in their report, invisible in the report itself.
Finally, Carnival Cruise Lines declined offers by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to investigate this incident, and instead turned the matter over to the Panama Maritime Authority, the country in which the vessel is registered. The U.S. Coast Guard requested to join the investigation, and Panama consented. The NTSB provided two experts to assist the Coast Guard, following its request for technical assistance. Information on the progress of the investigation will eventually be released by the Panama Maritime Authority.
Any air carrier in the United States which operated in a similar manner would have questions raised about its lack of transparency, and loss of public confidence in that company’s crisis management abilities.
Top photo: Carnival Splendor towed back to port in San Diego (AP via National Examiner)
2nd photo: Broken CO2 valve (Coast Guard via National Examiner)
3rd photo: Wrong fire instruction manual (Coast Guard via National Examiner)
Bottom photo: Leaking CO2 piping / hose connections (Coast Guard via National Examiner)