According to a blockbuster article in the Financial Times titled Luxury Cruise Liner’s Launch Delayed as Dozens of Ships Face Potential Safety Hazard, construction materials used in the building of MSC Cruises’ Explora I reportedly failed their safety certification. Helsinki, Finland-based Paroc (a subsidiary of U.S. Owens Corning), which manufactures the insulated building materials which the article refers to as “panels” used in the shipbuilding business, notified the shipyard (operated by Fincantieri) that the materials failed to meet European safety certification requirements.

The Financial Times further reports that Michael Ungerer, chief executive of MSC subsidiary Explora Journeys, said during recent communications with travel agents that Fincantieri “identified a critical issue that must receive immediate attention. Certain materials from a third-party supplier do not meet the required safety certifications and we therefore could not take delivery of the ship as planned. ” Delivery of the Explora I, the first cruise ship for MSC Cruises’ luxury subsidiary Explora Journeys, which was originally scheduled for May and had previously pushed back to July, was further delayed delivery due to the failed safety tests.

This development could not come at a worse time for MSC or the cruise industry in general. Construction began on the Explorer I in June of 2021 and the cruise ship was floated out in a grand ceremony in May of 2022 to the fanfare of shipyard and cruise executives.

As Business Insider and the Financial Times report, Paroc indicated 45 other other ships may have carried the faulty panels. This potentially means, as Business Insider points out, that “about 15% of the world’s operating cruise ships could be at risk of disruption if the panels needed to be replaced.”

The Financial Times commented that the discovery of the defective building materials “comes as the cruise industry enters the crucial summer season, which will make or break cruise companies’ hopes of surpassing annual passenger volumes from 2019 for the first time since the pandemic dealt a severe blow to the industry.”

According to the Financial Times, last week the Paroc panels started being recalled by their local distributor, prompting MSC and Fincantieri to cancel the ship’s launch on a day’s notice.

The Financial Times article did not identify exactly which Paroc products are causing concerns (a technical company description of marine products is here) or what kind of certification test failed, or the technical reason for the failure.

Fire is one of the most serious risks of injury and death at sea. Last month, a small expedition cruise ship, the Wilderness Discoverer, sailing in Glacier Bay National Park caught on fire, resulting in the evacuation of all guests and crew members.

A month earlier, a fire erupted on the balcony of a guest cabin on the Carnival Corporation-owned Pacific Adventure cruise ship operated by P&O Australia.

The cause of the Pacific Adventure cruise ship fire was apparently someone flipping a burning cigarette over the rails and into a balcony below. A smoker 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 moved into the adjacent cabin and then continued to burn throughout the ship. Read: Cigarette Eyed As Cause of Cruise Blaze by NBC News.

Questions remain whether the fire detection, alarm and suppression systems had been removed from the Pacific Adventure during a dry dock before the fire after maintenance issues regarding leaking sprinkler pipes.

Regarding the Explora I, the Financial Times pointed out that Carnival Corporation, the largest cruise company in the world, said “it was aware of the recent test failure,” although Carnival contends that the panels in question were fitted on one Carnival ship in its fleet had passed “all required certifications at the time of installation.” The other major cruise company, Royal Caribbean Cruises, also reportedly used panels made by Paroc which were installed by the German shipbuilder Meyer Werft, according to the newspaper. Neither Royal Caribbean nor Meyer Werft responded to the Financial Times’ requests for comment about whether their vessels were fitted with the faulty Paroc panels.

Both Carnival and Royal Caribbean are tens of billions of dollars in debt due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and neither has shown a profit in the last three years. It remains to be seen what steps will be taken by these cruise giants to inspect and replace the Paroc products if they are not in compliance with applicable fire ratings and safety standards.

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Image Credit: Top- Explora Journey via Business Insider; Fincantieri shipyard via CruiseTricks; Paroc workers – Paroc.

July 9, 2023 Update:

There has been a buzz of interest in this news with other lawyers going to social media (see TicTok video below) as well as several “cruise fan” bloggers, like CruiseRadio and CruiseHive, writing fair accounts about the fiasco.

July 10, 2023 Update:

We address MSC’s prior claims that it was just “supply chain” problems and its desire to build a “perfect” ship caused the delay of the Explorer I – not the fact that the Paroc materials failed fire safety certification. Travel publication Open Jaw does as far as to accuse the Financial Times of engaging in a “false alarm” after it parroted MSC’s false and misleading talking points.