Royal Caribbean started spinning the story on the Freedom of the Seas fire yesterday before the ship stopped burning, saying things like:
It was just a small fire that was quickly extinguished. All systems are operational. Passengers mustered only as a precaution. No injuries to passengers. Guests able to leave the ship to enjoy Falmouth by 1:00 P.M. The cruise will continue with its regular scheduled itinerary. Next stop is George Town, Grand Cayman, tomorrow.
Some media outlets took the bait. The New York Times published a clueless article titled "Royal Caribbean Ship Has Small Fire in Jamaica" which characterized the fire as "small" and "brief" and showed a beautiful photograph of the cruise ship without the flames and dense smoke.
The truth of the matter is that this was a large fire that took one and one-half hours to extinguish (per the Miami Herald). When we heard of the fire yesterday, we immediately asked a former Royal Caribbean crew member to go to Falmouth from Montego Bay and photograph and video the fire. Over 900,000 people have watched his videotape on Facebook so far. Take a look yourself. It’s hardly a small fire.
Captain Bill Doherty of Nexus Consulting* weighed in on the fire yesterday, stating on Facebook:
"That’s one major fire! Why wasn’t there a proper Flag state and Class post casualty survey done prior to sailing? That could not have been completed in the short time the ship was in that port. Also there HAD to be a large amount of expendable fire fighting assets used putting the fire out. Extinguishers, foam, CO-2, air packs and so many other expendable items. Was the ship restocked to proper level and breathing apparatus recharged in that short time or did ship sail in an unseaworthy condition for the sake of expedience?"
The U.S. Coast Guard is not going to inspect the Freedom until the ship returns to the U.S. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) can’t do anything and is powerless to intervene to enforce the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) recommendations. The flag state, the Bahamas, is another feckless Caribbean flag of convenience that is too busy dealing with a run-away crime rate to bother inspecting another cruise ship that catches on fire. So the vacationing passengers will be herded like sheep on to the burnt cruise ship which will sail on to the Caymans because Royal Caribbean doesn’t want to incur the expense of putting 3,600 passengers in hotels in Montego Bay, hiring twenty chartered jets to fly them back to the states, and giving refunds in the millions of dollars.
The cruise line’s CEO’s are in control here. Screw the IMO, SOLAS and the need for post casualty surveys. The show must go on.
July 25,2015 Update: From a passenger on the cruise ship: "Just don’t buy the PR put out to news outlets by Royal Caribbean. The fire was significant. I’ve recorded the captain’s video where he described the extent of the fire, how long it took to put out, etc. It varies greatly from RC’s description.”
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*Captain Bill Doherty is a 1967 graduate of the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, a licensed US Coast Guard Master-Unlimited tonnage, and qualified First Class Pilot, Prince William Sound, Valdez, Alaska. Captain Doherty has served on numerous U.S. Navy warships and was the Head of Maritime Affairs for the Chief of Naval Operations during Operation Desert Storm. Over the course of his career, he has commanded tankers, container ships, research vessels, high-speed ferries, and was an instructor at his alma mater. Before retirement, his latest position was as Safety Manager for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Captain Doherty now serves as the director of maritime affairs for Nexus Consulting, and has appeared as a cruise safety expert before the United States Senate.