I first heard of the fires (yes, plural) aboard the Princess Cruises’ Emerald Princess in a cruise review entitled Emerald Princess On Fire!!!

A couple on the cruise ship commented, with no other details, that on the first night (September 16th) "the staff were called to stations because of a fire in the engine room. Unfortunately, we had another fire in the engine room a couple of days into the cruise . . . "

I later found a discussion on Cruise Critic started by a cruise passenger who commented that she was alarmed after the captain’s announcement of a "technical issue" which caused the entire crew to muster. She was even more alarmed by an announcement that "the fire is out" in the engine room. The Princess cruise ship was 7 hours south of Southampton at the time.

Four days later, another passenger commented on Cruise Critic that there has a second fire in the Emerald Princessengine room. "Needless to say its gotten me shaken up. Twice in one trip on my first cruise. Tempted to get off when we reach Italy and cut my holiday short. I’ve asked customer services for more info to put my mind at rest and am still awaiting a call from them to my room with more info. 4 hours after requesting it!!"

The captain eventually made an announcement but the information was limited and seemed to confuse the  passengers. Cruise Critic members began leaving comments about what they thought of fires on cruise ships. 

Cruise Critic members are an odd assortment of people. Some profess technical expertise and condescendingly lecture other members not to worry about why fires break out. "It’s technical," they say. One person commenting said "too much information can cause even more reason to worry." Others expressed blind trust in Princess. The comments ranged from rank speculation minimizing the fires, accusations that others were engaging in "scaremongering," and assurances from the loyal cruise fans that this was just a "mountain out of a molehill." Many Cruise Critic members, commenting from the security of their homes, suggested that the passengers on the ship just "carry on" and not worry about it.  My favorite comment was – as long as the captain doesn’t say "’abandon ship’ you should be ok."

Cruisers scheduled to cruise on the Emerald Princess in the future, however, were not satisfied with this mishmash of speculation and blind loyalty. They asked Princess for an explanation on its Facebook page. 

Princess then left the following comment on its Facebook page:

"The ship experienced two very unusual technical failures on the engines, which caused what turned out to be two very minor fires but which produced smoke in the engine room. The fires were quickly extinguished in both instances, there were no injuries and these fires did not pose a safety threat to passengers and crew. During each incident, in an abundance of caution, the crew was called to their emergency stations. There is no reason to believe that there will be a repeat of these incidents. All the ship’s systems and the ship’s emergency response procedures operated correctly, and the ship is safe. We look forward to welcoming you onboard a safe, relaxing voyage next month!"

Princess’s PR statement hit all of the elements of a corporate spin – the fires were "unusual" (i.e., rare), the fires were "minor," the fires were "quickly extinguished," the crew mustered in an "abundance of caution," the fires "didn’t pose a safety threat to passengers," and the "ship is safe."

But one future cruiser on the Emerald Princess wasn’t satisfied with the corporate gobbledygook and pressed for more information from Princess" 

"I hope due to unusual technical failures on not one but two engines this has been thoroughly checked out and not a quick fix till she reaches America. I heard about it from passengers on board wrote on Cruise Critic.They were worried. Crew did not answer any questions."

Princess responded on Facebook:

"The safety of our guests is our priority. There is no reason to believe there will be a repeat of these incidents. Specialist technicians from the engine manufacturer are traveling to the ship to investigate."

People on a ship who hear the sound of fire alarms and see crew members running to to their fire stations at night in the Atlantic Ocean are bound to feel frightened and uncertain. That’s normal. They are not sheep. They’re going to be inquisitive. That’s normal too. But most cruise ships do a poor job of being transparent with the guests. "It’s nothing" the crew may say. "There was smoke but no fire" is a favorite excuse.  "It’s technical. Don’t worry your pretty head about it," are the responses you may receive by crew members who are trained to reassure the guests but not-admit-anything.

My thought is that all passengers are entitled to receive timely, accurate and honest information about something as serious as a fire on the high seas, no matter how small the cruise line claims the fire is or how rapidly the cruise line claim they extinguished it. Such transparency is vital to ensuring corporate accountability and passenger safety. No one should have to resort to posting on Cruise Critic or Facebook for answers.   

Cruise Critic is not a place to find honest information anyway. Owned by travel conglomerate Expedia / Trip Advisor, it’s a place where members who express natural fear and uncertainty and inquire about dangers on cruise ships are often ridiculed. 

One Cruise Critic fan stated that the thread never needed to be started. "All it accomplished was to get some people needlessly worried and upset. I can’t imagine rushing to the computer to report on an ongoing event without knowing the facts. As it turned out, these were minor events that were dealt with appropriately and didn’t need to be posted and discussed all over the internet . . . I trust Princess to ensure the safety of their passengers and will continue to have faith until something happens to belie that trust. It hasn’t happened in the 12 years I have been sailing on Princess."

Of course the Star Princess ignited just 8 years ago and was caused by the tiniest of fires (a smoldering cigarette). That fire killed one passenger (our clients’ father) and injured and terrified many others as it destroyed 100 cabins. 

But those on Cruise Critic who blindly trust Princess don’t want to talk about that, do they? That would be too upsetting.  


Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Holger.Ellgaard Creative Commons 3.0

  • Full transparency is the only way.

  • Marianne Fearnside
  • Erin

    did that passenger die from a heart attack?

  • Susan S.

    Yes, passengers should demand full transparency. My mother suffered smoke inhalation injuries on the 2006 cruise, which she believed contributed to the lung cancer she died from two years later. The Princess company behaved disgracefully in compensating her for even what was at the time considered a minor injury. I urge anyone considering a cruise to choose another company – Princess cares nothing for its passengers or employees, nothing but the almighty dollar.

  • Jeanette

    We were on this ship and the first night when they announced the fire we were having a coffee in the Piazza, the noise coming from under our feet was very disturbing and we asked the waiter what it was and he thought it was generators kicking in, the next minute the alarms sounded and the crew started to run around the ship. We stood there for what seemed like hours and no-one told us what to do. Eventually we were told to go to our rooms and get our life jackets (which turned out to be the wrong information) but it scared us to death. So after running from deck 6 up the stairs to deck 12 to our cabin we met a crew member in a white uniform who told us to wait in our rooms for further instruction. We sat for what seemed for ever until the captain eventually told the crew to stand down the fire was out and we could go back to sleep!!! To those who think it was no big deal, you should have been there … seeing crew members running around and up and down stairs -not walking – running.. I bet you would have been scared too.

  • Bob Brewster

    We also were on the ship the first night,we must have just dropped off in bed when there was this loud alert sound in the cabin and the announcement “ERT to deck 4″.
    We assumed ERT was something to do with cardiac arrest as the ships medical facility was on deck 4.
    Few minutes later another alert with a brief explanation and apolgy and that there was a technical problem on deck 4 being dealt with by the ERT which we now Know is ” the emergency response team”
    About 20 minutes later the captain came on and briefly explained there was a small fire in the engine room being dealt with and his engineers assured him all was under control and he wil keep us uptodate on develops and there is no action needed by the passengers.
    We were on the lido deck so I went out onto the balcony and immediately smelt the burnig which was like a burning motor on fire with a metallic like odour, I looked to the back of the ship and thought there was some low clouds at the stern which on closer look turned out to be smoke.
    On telling my wife this she immediately dressed and emptied the contents of our safe in to a bag had her life jacket and was ready to go.
    About 20 minutes later the Captain came back on and give an explanation of a small fire in the engine room which the crew dealt with and we were now getting back up to speed and apologized and said we can all go back to sleep.not easily done after that!!!.
    The next morning the captain gave another more comprehensive explanation.
    Speaking to fellow passengers in the morning,some said there was a lot of activity in the corridors of staff running to their emergency locations.
    Some apparently dressed and slept in their clothes that night.
    with another fire a couple of nights later one began to wonder what is going to happen next,we did hear that after that the theatre had to be evacuated due to an amplifier smouldering but a ship wide alert was not given on this occassion.
    They say things happen in threes so we hoped that vwas the last and fortunately no more problems and settled into an enjoyable cruise.

  • alfred

    We were also on this cruise and a letter to the Princess line at Southampton about the whole thing took them five weeks to answer. There were serious issues here but the reply to my letter when I eventually received it made light of the whole thing. Whether or not the three (yes THREE!) fires on board constituted a real danger the effect on passengers, most of whom were elderly and many very infirm could have precipitated many cardiac events, even fatal ones. We spoke to scores of passengers throughout the ship after these incidents and there were many who dared not sleep after the fire alerts. The captain sounded very rattled throughout and that did little to reassure the passengers. Outside our cabin window there were various bits of junk on the deck including a couple of forty gallon oil drums. They may not have contained oil but I seriously doubt whether they were full of water. When one hears the word ‘fire’ on board ship for the second time the same day (there was another fire alert earlier in the day) one has every right to feel alarmed especially when, after the captain said everything in the garden was now rosy, there were still life-jacketed crew members walking up and down the corridors after midnight. I fear Princess has not heard the last of this – and other matters too.

  • abc

    I suggest that any complaints about cruise ships go to the local media, not to the cruise line. Have your camcorder at the ready and document the facts. Then have those facts played in public.

    The only way to shine the light on these companies is to go direct. The travel industry is a slimy bunch, all of them, from Trip Advisor to Cruise Critic to the transportation lines. You can’t rely on them for resolution of serious matters.

  • Rosemary Brown

    I am one of those loyal Princess customers and I find this article somewhat inflammatory. First of all, fire alarms do not sound throughout the ship on the public address system so passengers are not going to hear that. We’ve sailed for about a year in total now and experienced at least five small fires, all well controlled. Ones stemming from the ship included a kitchen fire and an exploding light bulb in a lounge which had self extinguished before the firefighting crew even got there. One was, according to the Captain, because ‘some naughty boy put a cigarette stub in the waste basket of the men’s washroom on deck….’ This is not acceptable behaviour at sea (or on land) but is not the fault of Princess. They do not condone the irrresponsible handling of smoking materials (as we are told over and over) and now have banned smoking in both staterooms and on balconies, partly in an effort to reduce the chances of situations like the fire on the Star. People still try to break the rules though.


    very unhappy that the emerald princess is having
    so many fires on board in the engine room
    in the last few years

    we are going on this ship in November–
    we thinking changing to another ship


  • Brian Cardozo

    Just to get the facts right from the beginning,…The Emerald Princess set sale on her first night….17th September 2016, which was also the evening the incident took place.
    A rubber drive belt on a cooling fan created smoke which travelled from another deck level through the ducting into the engine room, which could be seen through the inspection window by investigating engineers. There was regular updates as to the progress of dealing with the problem direct from the Captain. It was true to state that staff were on duty at the allotted stations as a precaution.

    The operation of dealing with the issue was completed about an hour or so later and was again confirmed by the Captain.

    The following day the Captain reported the whole incident and explained in detail how it had arisen and was successfully dealt with. There was also a pre-arranged on-stage “meet the Captain” session, where once again he clarified through a question and answer session what proceedures are taken and that the fullest precautions are always followed.

    Of course it was concerning and inconvenient, but I feel reassured that all safety for the passengers was strictly adhered to. As a by the by, we noticed from our balcony that within striking distance there were 3 other cruise ships that seemed handily placed if required…..so in my humble opinion as an cruise beginner of 30 years, and to put a little bit of balance back into those comments previously made,…I was satisfied, not thrilled, but satisfied with the dealing of the incident.

  • Ann Collins

    I have read the comments from passengers
    who travelled to the Med.in September 2014
    on the Emerald Princess.My husband and
    myself also travelled on this Cruise,
    our first taste at cruising but certainly
    the last. We were awoken at Midnight
    by a message from The Captain,which did
    nothing to alleviate our fears.Two days
    later it happened again,some relaxing holiday
    Never Again.No apologies or compensation
    was forthcoming, Princess Line some joke
    should called Alarming Line.Our50th Anniversary was ruined!!!!!!!