On Friday, March 22, 2024, an explosion in the engine room of Holland America Line’s (HAL) cruise ship resulted in the release of steam which led to the death of two crew members. The catastrophic explosion, combined with a series of mistakes in responding to the accident, caused the deaths of HAL employees Joseph Terrado and Wawan Gusnawan.

The accident took place shortly after 9:00 a.m. on Friday while the HAL cruise ship was anchored (or was maneuvering on dynamic positioning) at the cruise line’s private Bahamian destination of Half Moon Cay (there is no dock). Mr. Terrado, employed as a third engineer, and Mr. Gusnawan, employed as a wiper, were reportedly installing filters when a steam compensator, unrelated to their duties, exploded. The part which failed is called a “steam bellow.” The official name of the defective equipment is a “thermal expansion joint” (photo immediately below).

The explosion released steam into the engine room. The bridge reportedly ordered an alarm and shut down the ventilation to the space before it was evacuated. The two crew members, who were not equipped with Emergency Escape Breathing Devices (EEBD), were unable to manually open the closed, heavy hydraulic doors. They were trapped in the space. They apparently suffocated due to the lack of oxygen and hot steam (180 degrees Celsius/ over 350 Fahrenheit). The hot steam and lack of oxygen which overwhelmed them. Their bodies were located near the closed water tight doors.

A HAL fan page contained an image of steam being vented from the engine room of the HAL cruise ship

This preliminary information, the photo of the steam bellow (above), and a video of the location of the accident (below) were provided by cruise employees who wishes to remain anonymous.

Other than issuing a press statement which offered “thoughts and prayers” and offering counseling to crew members affected by the tragedy, HAL did not release any details or provide the names of the two crew members or their job positions. Nor did HAL offer any explanation into how the accident occurred. Instead, the cruise line referred to the deadly engine room accident innocuously as an “incident in an engineering space.” HAL says that it notified “the appropriate authorities” and is currently investigating the incident. HAL did not identify the investigating agency nor state whether it will release additional information. (HAL later stated that the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) was leading the investigation), although this ship flies the flag of the Netherlands (see update below).

Cruise lines which perform investigations following accidents of this type keep their finding and conclusions secret. HAL will subsequently claim that its investigation is privileged and protected from disclosure to the public. HAL will never volunteer any information about what happened two days ago resulting in the deaths of Mr. Terrado and Mr. Gusnawan.

Because these crew members are citizens of the Philippines (but see update below), HAL will claim that their surviving family members are subject to the provisions of the Philippines Overseas Employment Agreement (POEA) which applies to all Filipino seafarers and their families. The POEA provides very limited damages of only $50,000, and only $7,500 per child, when Filipino seafarers die while employed on cruise ships. Cruise lines like HAL have inserted arbitration clauses in their crew members’ employment contracts which prohibit ship employees and their families from filing lawsuits in the U.S. before a judge and jury. HAL will eventually offer to pay a pittance to the families of these two innocent, hard working crew members, despite the fact that they died due to the obvious faulty condition of the HAL cruise ship, the lack of safety equipment, and the apparent negligence of their supervisors and bridge officers. Meanwhile, HAL will continue to keep the circumstances of the accident secret and its substantial wrongdoing away from public scrutiny.

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March 24, 2024 Update:

We have learned that Mr. Gusnawan is from Indonesia. Therefore, his family is not subject to the POEA and Filipino law. His family is still required to comply with the arbitration clause in his employment contract prohibiting them from filing suit in the U.S. Mr. Gusnawan was married with two children, a daughter and young son.

Officer Terrado was married with two daughters who live in Baguio City in the Philippines.

Condolences to the family, friends and co-employees of both of these men.

There reportedly were five crew members in the engine room before the explosion. Three left the room before the explosion and closed the water-tight door behind them. The fire team, which assembled after the explosion, could not open the doors for reason not currently known (perhaps the hydraulic oil became too hot and the hydraulic pump could not build up adequate pressure). The emergency manual hand pump reportedly did not work.

ABC World News Tonight aired this program on Sunday evening, March 24,2024:

@abcworldnews

Bahamian authorities are investigating the deaths of two crew members aboard a Holland America cruise ship. #ReenaRoy has new information on how they died. #WorldNewsTonight #WNT #DavidMuir #News #ABCNEWS

♬ original sound – ABC World News Tonight

March 25, 2024 Update:

The Dutch Safety Board (OVV) will conduct an investigation. This is a good development as the OVV has a reputation for thorough, non-biased maritime investigations unlike internal reports by the Carnival Corporation owner. The OVV is comparable to the NTSB here in the U.S. So it will issue a formal report which will be released to the public

Image Credit: Engine room and failed steam bellow- anonymous; Nieuw AnsterdamJonathan Palombo CC BY 2.0 commons / wikimedia.