A fire erupted on the balcony of a guest cabin on the Pacific Adventure cruise ship around 3:15 A.M. yesterday (Australian time) off the coast of New South Wales. The P&O Cruises’ cruise ship was carrying over 3,000 guests and a crew of over 1,000.

Newspapers reported that many guests were forced to evacuate from their cabins as the crew worked to extinguish the blaze. Accounts range that from several hundreds to over a thousand guests were displaced.

As usual, a cruise line spokesperson claimed that the fire was “small” and “quickly extinguished.” Numerous newspaper repeated the “small and quickly extinguished” fire mantra. There were no reports of injury to the guests or crew members. P&O did not disclose the cause of the fire.

There are conflicting reports regarding the extent of the fire. Some newspapers report that the fire damaged only one cabin whereas other sources claim that numerous cabins were damaged.

History Repeats Itself?

Based on comments by an anonymous guest, Cruise Mapper reports that the “fire broke out on a cabin balcony reportedly, caused by a lit cigarette . . . ” If so, this was also the most probable cause of the origin of deadly fire on the Star Princess cruise ship in 2006. That particular fire began on a balcony and spread into the adjacent cabin and then continued to burn throughout the ship. Read: Cigarette Eyed As Cause of Cruise Blaze by NBC News.

There is No “Small Fire” at Sea

Many people have suggested that the fire on the Pacific Adventure wasn’t serious because it was characterized as “small” and “quickly extinguished.” This is what the cruise line and its trade organization want you to believe. Of course, every fire on the high seas starts out small and is potentially very serious.

Does the Pacific Adventure Have Fire Detection and Suppression Systems in its Balconies?

The important issue is whether the balcony in question was equipped with a “fixed pressure water-spraying and fixed fire detection and fire alarm systems,” as required by amendments to the SOLAS regulations.

These amendments to SOLAS came about after the fire aboard the Star Princess which burned over a hundred cabins after a flicked cigarette caught a towel on a passenger balcony on fire.

The UK’s Maritime Accident Investigations Branch (MAIB) was critical of the fact that the balcony chairs and balcony partitions were highly combustible and caused heavy, toxic smoke. None of the balconies on the Star Princess had heat or smoke detectors or sprinkler systems.

We represented the family of Richard Liffridge who died in the fire. After his death, Princess said that it installed fixed sprinkler and fire detection systems on the balconies of its fleet of cruise ships. 

Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?

Mr. Liffridge’s daughter later went aboard the Star Princess and inspected the balcony and fire detection systems. You can read about that here, Ten Years of Cruise Ship Fires – Has the Cruise Industry Learned Anything?  She testified before Congress regarding the need for all cruise ships to be equipped with balcony fire detection and suppression systems.  

However, when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) amended SOLAS, it did not require all cruise ships to install balcony fire systems. It waived the requirement where the cruise line balcony furniture and furnishings were of “restricted fire risk.”  

Other than Princess, few cruise lines will publicly state whether their ships are retrofitted with balcony sprinkler systems or whether the newly built cruise ships (after July 1, 2008) are equipped with such safety features.  

Do all of the 95 or so cruise ships owned by Carnival Corporation, and operated by its numerous brands including P&O Australia, have fire detection, alarm and suppression systems on the passenger balconies? Have any Carnival-owned cruise ships built before July 1, 2008 been retrofitted with fire detection and suppression systems other than the Princess fleet? How about other cruise lines?  Have some cruise lines just replaced the balcony partitions and furniture with less combustible (and less toxic-when-burned) substances and deck coverings?

The basic question is did the Pacific Adventure have fire detection and suppression systems for its balconies? P&O representatives have not mentioned this issue and the media, unfortunately, is just parroting the misleading “small and quickly extinguished” fire narrative.

Perform Your Own 30-Second Investigation of Your Cruise Balcony

If you are sailing on the Pacific Adventure now, take a moment and go out on the balcony and look to see if it is equipped with sprinkler pipes and a valve, as well as heat and/or smoke detection systems. They are easy to spot if they have been installed.

In the photograph below, you can see our client pointing out the sprinkler valve (with her right hand) and the smoke/heat detector (with her left hand). Does your cabin’s balcony have this basic equipment installed?

Please send me an email, or leave a comment on our Facebook page, letting me know the results of your thirty-second investigation. We also suggest taking a photo of the balcony overhead space. You should also ask the cruise line for an answer to the simple yes or no questions: (1) does the balcony have a sprinkler valve, and (2) does the balcony have a smoke/heat alarm? (I would not hold my breath waiting for an answer). Thanks!

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

In Memory of Richard Liffridge, March 11, 1934 – March 23, 2006

Image credit: Pacific Adventure9 News; Star PrincessNBC News; Pacific Adventure9 News Queensland.