The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published its findings yesterday regarding a fire on the Caribbean Fantasy cruise ferry, operated by Baja Ferries, near Puerto Rico in August of 2016. You can read the NTSB’s summary, proable cause findings, and recommendations regarding the fire here.
We reported on the fire at the time in our article Caribbean Fantasy Catches on Fire (with video).
The ferry was carrying 387 passengers and 124 crew members as well as cargo, trailers, shipping containers, trucks and cars.
The NTSB investigators found that the fire started when a pipe leaked fuel onto an engine’s exhaust manifold. The fire spread because fuel valves were bolted open. The fire quickly spread and overwhelmed the fire-suppression system (carbon-dioxide suppression and water-misting equipment) and then burned into the vehicle and cargo areas where cars burned and explosions occurred.
After an hour, the master ordered an evacuation which took 3 hours and 43 minutes, rather than the 30 as required under the international maritime standards.
The ferry had just three life boats which could not accommodate all of the passengers and crew, The remainder of those aboard had to slide down emergency chutes positioned above life-rafts (we have discussed these dangerous devices in prior articles like this and this). Five passengers were serioudly injured due to the steep descent into the life-rafts.
Investigators found that crew members had not been trained in removing pins to deploy the lifeboats. The crew was unable to release on of the lifeboats causing two passengers to fall into the water as other passengers panicked.
A NTSB investigator stated that if the accident had happened farther from port, in rougher seas or at night, “the result could have been catastrophic,” according to USA Today.
As we reported back in 2016, between 2011 and 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard found at least 107 security deficiencies, of which 44 were related to the fire system used by the Caribbean Fantasy. The ferry reportedly had been detained three times in 2014, 2015 and 2016 because of failed inspections.
Photographs of the fire, fire-fighting efforts and evacuation can be viewed on our Facebook page.
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Photo credit: @pjpedrojuan/Twitter via ABC News, credit to the Defense Video Imagery Distribution System (Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Lally).