Engine-room fire aboard Caribbean cruise ship in port kills 3, injures 1

Three workers died in an engine-room fire aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean.
The Dec. 11 fire aboard Insignia killed two contractors and a crewmember. The fire occurred while the ship was in port at St. Lucia, amid a 10-day cruise that began in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 7.

The fire, which occurred at 0830, was located in the engine room and was extinguished, according to Jason Lasecki, spokesman for Oceania Cruises, which operates the vessel. One other crewmember was hospitalized after the fire, but returned to the ship Dec. 12. None of the 684 passengers was hurt. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings owns Oceania Cruises.

The 592-foot Insignia is a Marshall Islands-flagged vessel. Laura Sherman, spokeswoman for International Registries Inc., would not comment on the incident until the investigation is finished. International Registries does administrative and technical work for the Republic of Marshall Islands.

Inspectors from the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board went to St. Lucia for five days to assist with the investigation. Brad Schoenwald, a marine inspector who was part of the team, said the Coast Guard could not comment on the investigation since the agency was assisting Marshall Islands.

Clark Dodge, a passenger vessel safety consultant, said one possibility is a fuel line broke and sprayed fuel on a hot manifold that then triggered the fire. 

In the past few years there have been several engine-room fires on cruise ships. On Jan. 25, an engine-room fire on board the cruise ship Boudicca left the vessel listing and without power for about five hours off the coast of Morocco. Two engines were damaged, but there were no injuries. There were 784 passengers on board. 

In 2013, three Carnival cruise ships were disabled due to fire or engine problems. In the worst incident, a fire in generator No. 6 on Carnival Triumph on Feb. 10 left the vessel with no propulsion as it drifted for four days with only emergency generator power. A lawsuit filed in federal court maintained that the company was aware of leaks in fuel lines in the engine room and that three generators were overdue for maintenance, but took no action.

Dodge wondered if there are more cruise ship fires occurring than in the past, or if more are being reported. “My gut feeling is that it is probably happening more,” he said. “Because there are so many ships being built and they are built in foreign countries — who knows what kind of inspections they do?”

William Doherty, director of maritime relations at Nexus Consulting Group, believes that the cruise industry in general does not have a culture of safety. Often, smaller problems in engine rooms are not addressed right away until a major problem happens. “When you keep putting things aside and doing just enough maintenance to get underway — you really haven’t resolved it,” he said. “That’s what happens when you keep deferring maintenance.”

By Professional Mariner Staff