Carnival Cruise Denies Wrongdoing After Being Accused of Having Prior Knowledge of Fire Risks

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Justice ScaleThis week, a compliance notice report regarding February’s Carnival Triumph fire became public news. According to the report, Carnival knew of the dangers of a fire breaking out on the ship and issued a notice to the Triumph recommending spray shields be installed on the vessel’s fuel hoses. Clearly, the Triumph did not comply; but while it seems pretty obvious to the cruise ship accident lawyers at our firm – and to several maritime authorities and Triumph victims – that this oversight played a role in the fire, Carnival (as usual) is denying any wrongdoing.

The fire which disabled the Triumph on February 10, 2013 was significant – not because there were any casualties – but because, as our lawyers have alleged, the accident: 1) could have been completely avoided had the line installed emergency backup generators, 2) the cruise line did apparently did not do enough to ensure passengers were transported to shore as quickly as possible and 3) because those onboard had to suffer through five days of non-working toilets, meager food provisions and hazardous waste and sewage overflowing from deck to deck. Now, with the revelation of Carnival’s knowledge of the possible risk of fire without the spray shields, we can add Carnival’s apparent negligence in maintaining passenger safety by failing to comply with its own recommendations.

The fire was caused by a leak in the fuel line, a leak that now, seemingly could have been prevented had the ship upgraded its safety features to prevent the fire. The compliance notice report, which was introduced as evidence in court in a lawsuit filed on behalf of Triumph passengers, suggests  Carnival was aware the Triumph was at risk for a fire. This knowledge is based on  an investigation that followed a similar fire onboard Costa Allegra in 2012, which revealed an issue with fuel leaks involving flexible hoses. The investigation also found that similar issues with the hoses were found on other ships in the Carnival Corp. fleet, namely the Triumph.

While Carnival does not dispute the fact regarding the information on the hoses, it does contend that the line took immediate measures to make corrections to prevent fuel leaks. According to company spokesman Roger Frizzell, spray shields were installed across the fleet in January and February 2013. He assures the Triumph’s shields were installed when the vessel set sail on its ill-fated voyage on February 7, but the lawsuit points out that the particular fuel line that leaked and caused the fire was NOT shielded.

Carnival offered a rebuttal, alleging the Triumph was “safe” because the compliance standards required the hoses above the deck plate to be shielded, but not those below, which is where the hose that leaked on the ship was located.

There is a huge problem with this statement; namely, that the deck plate was apparently unable to contain the fire. When it comes to maritime safety, cruise ships should never cut corners. Just because a regulation specifies that hoses above the deck plate are the only ones that should be required to be shielded, a multibillion-dollar corporation like Carnival should take the extra step and ensure ALL its hoses are in perfect working condition, especially considering the fact that the compliance notice specifically states that the line should “ensure a suitable spray shield … is installed” for all diesel engines using the flexible fuel lines.

Cruise lines are required by maritime law to provide a safe environment for passengers and crew members. Can the Triumph really have been considered safe? Given a fire broke out right after the notice to install spray shields was ignored for the below deck plate hoses, we have to disagree.

Another issue that was pointed out in the lawsuit highlights the line’s overall nonchalant attitude toward safety. According to the suit, Carnival’s “ticket contract makes absolutely no guarantee for safe passage, a seaworthy vessel, adequate and wholesome food, and sanitary and safe living conditions.” Does that mean it’s ok for Triumph victims to have endured unsanitary conditions, lack of “wholesome food”, or five days on a “non-seaworthy” vessel?

We will keep you posted on continuing developments in this matter.