Cruise ship line to pay $1 million fine in fatal boiler blast aboard SS Norway

A federal judge in May ordered Norwegian Cruise Line Limited to pay a $1 million fine as a result of a 2003 boiler explosion that killed eight crewmembers and injured 10 others.

The blast happened aboard SS Norway while docked in Miami just hours after completing a Caribbean cruise, a route the vessel had traveled regularly since 1980.

In addition, NCLL must pay $13.75 million in preliminary restitution to victims. The company pleaded guilty in a criminal plea agreement to a single charge brought under federal shipping laws, alleging grossly negligent operation of Norway, which placed the lives and property of persons on board the vessel at risk and led to the death of at least one individual.

None of the 2,135 passengers onboard were hurt in the May 25, 2003 incident. The ship, once known as Blue Lady, received $20 million in damages and was retired from service. Launched as the pride of France’s shipyards in 1960 as SS France, the 1,035-foot Norway now awaits dismantling in Alang, on the west coast of India.

NCLL admitted through its plea agreement and accompanying statement that it had failed to ensure that proper inspections, maintenance and repairs of boiler components were carried out.

The factual statement includes admissions that engineers on the vessel did not follow standard procedures in starting up and shutting down the boilers and failed to maintain correct boiler water chemistry, thereby contributing to the corrosion and deterioration of the systems. They admitted that improper repairs were carried out on the high-pressure components. Additionally, it was noted that the boilers on the vessel had a history of cracks and corrosion dating back to the 1970s.

The National Transportation Safety Board investigators concluded that a weld on a seam of a high-pressure drum fractured, releasing almost 20 tons of high temperature water. It flashed into steam and swept through the engine spaces and some adjacent crew berthing areas, resulting in the death of eight crewmembers and the injury of others.

NCLL in an earlier statement said it intended to use an independent consultant to inspect the remainder of the ships in its fleet.

“The safety and security of our passengers and crew has been and always will be of the utmost importance,” Norwegian said in a statement.

Miami-based NCLL did not respond to additional Professional Mariner requests for comment.

An additional hearing is scheduled for July 18 to review whether relatives of the victims should be awarded greater restitutions for the loss of their loved ones.

By Professional Mariner Staff