Cruise Ship Fire - Richard LiffridgeIn the last week there have been a number of articles about certain cruise lines enacting new policies to restrict smoking on their cruise ships.

Yesterday the Miami Herald published an article Cruise Lines Putting Out More "No Smoking" Signs which discussed the policies of some of the cruise lines which have new rules prohibiting smoking in cabins and other areas of the cruise ships.

None of the articles mention passenger safety.  Rather the articles focus on the annoyance of passengers arriving in a cabin which had been smoked out by prior guests, or the nuisance of having to smell the smoke of cigarettes drifting into into cabins from adjacent balconies.    

The article mentions a new policy by Norwegian Cruise Line ("NCL") which announced that smoking will be banned inside cabins on all of its eleven cruise ships starting in January 2012. However, NCL announced that passengers can still smoke on balconies.

Carnival also announced that smoking is permitted only in dance clubs, jazz clubs, casinos and bars, and certain parts of open decks. Like NCL, Carnival is forbidding smoking in all staterooms across its fleet of cruise ships, but it gives a green light to its passengers to smoke on balconies.

Oh, how these cruise lines forget the lessons of history.

On March 23, 2006, a passenger aboard Princess Cruises’ Star Princess cruise ship smoking on a balcony flicked a cigarette overboard, thinking that it would drop innocently into the waters off of the coast of Jamaica.  Instead, the burning cigarette was whipped by the winds of the cruise ship, as it proceeded at over 20 knots, into a lower balcony.  It came into contact with the highly combustible furniture and partitions on a lower balcony. The cigarette smoldered, then erupted into a nightmarish fire.

Cruise Ship FireCruise passengers Richard Liffridge (photo above left) and his wife Vicky were asleep peacefully in their cabin.  The plastic partitions between the balconies below them were easily combustible. The Princess cruise ship had no fire suppression systems on the balconies of the cruise ship. The fire quickly spread across hundreds of other cabin balconies and then erupted into the cruise ship cabins.

Disoriented and confused, Richard and Vicky tried to crawl out of their cabin, through the cabin hallway.  They tried to hold on to one another as they tried to escape the billowing fire as they crawled, scratching across the hallway carpeting seeking safety.  Fire sparked and smoke billowed over their heads.

But the smoke and fire separated them as they tried to escape.

Vicki heard Richard moan “Vicky, don’t let me die!”

Vicki searched for her husband but was overwhelmed  by the smoke and fire.  Richard was lost in the darkness and oppressive heat.  Vicki was  taken to an open deck and treated for smoke inhalation.

Vicki later identified Richard’s dead body, covered in soot, resembling a chimney sweep – a far cry from the distinguished, smiling man whose photograph (top left) was taken in a smart suit and tie just the day before.

Vicki and Richard’s daughter, Lynnette Hudson, and other family members retained our firm to represent them in a case against Princess Cruises.  The case was highly successful, but that’s not the point of this article.  Rather, the surviving family members demanded that the cruise line take steps to make certain that such a catastrophe never occur again.

PCruise Ship Firerincess acted quickly to replace the highly combustible balcony wall partitions and furniture on the balconies, and to install fire detectors and fire suppression systems which had never been installed on any cruise ship before.   

Ms. Hudson later boarded the cruise ship with us 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 (below) pointing to the heat detectors and sprinklers.  Although Princess cruise ships have been retrofitted with sprinkler systems on the cabin’s balconies, not all cruise ships sailing today have such safety systems.

Vicki Liffridge and Ms. Hudson later traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a Congressional hearing into the safety of cruise passengers.  They requested Congress to enact legislation to protect passengers on cruise ships.

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 . . . "

Cruise Ship FireUnfortunately, many cruise lines, including Carnival (which is the parent company of Princess Cruises) and NCL have not replaced the easily combustible balcony partitions and installed fire suppression systems on the balconies.

The news today is disappointing.  Carnival and NCL still permit smoking on balconies.  

A year ago, I wrote an article Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires – Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

Why would any responsible cruise line not tell the smoke addicts that balconies are strictly off limits for lighting up a smoke?

Has Carnival and NCL learned anything in the past ten years? 

Before you take your family on a cruise, ask the cruise line or your local travel agent if the cruise ship has fire suppression systems for the passenger balconies.  If not, consider selecting a cruise line which does. 


Additional Information:

Wall Street Journal: "Cruise Lines Scramble to Replace Fire Hazard – Deadly Blaze Exposed Danger of Plastic Balcony Partitions Used on Dozens of Ships"

LA Times: "Cruise Industry’s Dark Waters"

MAIB Report of the Star Princess fire.