Cruise Ship Fires

Carnival Cruise Ship Fires


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Lipcon, Margulies & Winkleman, P.A. is comprised of attorneys that are nationally-recognized industry leaders in the field of maritime and admiralty law. Our team of lawyers has over a century of combined experience, has successfully handled over 3,000 cases, and has recovered over 300 million dollars in damages for our clients.

A History of Negligence and What the Carnival Triumph Fuel Leak Means for Passengers

What Causes Cruise Ship Fires and Other Accidents to Occur?

For many years, eager travelers have sought the excitement and adventure that a cruise vacation can bring. They have placed their lives in the hands of cruise operators far and wide, trusting them to protect them and their valuables and keep them safe from harm. Unfortunately, this hasn’t always been the case.

The recent fire onboard the Carnival Triumph is just the latest accident to occur on a cruise ship. From the Titanic to the Costa Concordia, accidents on the high seas have ranged in severity, but one thing remains the same – the vast majority have been due to negligence.

When it comes to cruise ship fires, the culprit is usually negligence in preventing or handling a mechanical failure. But this begs the question: Don’t cruise operators thoroughly check their equipment? The answer is a bit ambiguous.

Crewmembers are charged with making sure all equipment is functioning properly onboard a vessel, but because ships have such tight schedules, a thorough and proper inspection may not always take place. Each time a cruise ship comes back to its homeport, crews only have about 3-4 hours to disembark passengers, clean up cabins, refuel, obtain provisions, and check for mechanical problems before the next group of guests boards the vessel.

While many crewmembers do the best they can given the time they are allotted, their best is not always good enough. All it takes is one worker to overlook a tiny detail, including a loose screw, live wire or, in the Triumph’s case, a leak in a pipe, for tragedy to strike.

Although a preliminary investigation by the Coast Guard revealed the fire onboard the Triumph was due to a fuel leak, because the Carnival Triumph is registered in the Bahamas, the Bahamian police are the primary legal authorities conducting the investigation and it will take about six more months before a complete report of the accident is released.

We don’t know yet whether the leak was caused by someone’s negligence in thoroughly checking pipe lines, whether it was a result of previous mechanical errors the Triumph had faced, or whether it was random and unpredictable. What we do know is that history has proven the majority of cruise ship fires have been the result of someone’s negligence.

A Look Back in Time at Carnival Cruise Ship Fires

There have been several cruise ship fires throughout the years, some better contained than others. Many of the world’s top cruise companies, including Royal Caribbean, Princess and of course, Carnival, have had their share of accidents, but Carnival having the largest fleet has also faced issues with onboard fires more than the others in recent years.

Here’s a look at some of the fires that have erupted across the “Fun Ship” fleet over the past 14 years:

July 20, 1998 – A cruise ship fire on the Carnival Ecstasy left 60 people injured. The fire broke out shortly after leaving the Port of Miami, with 2557 passengers and 920 crewmembers onboard.

November 8, 2010 – The Carnival Splendor was disabled off the coast of Mexico due to a cruise ship fire, leaving 3,299 passengers and 1,167 crew members stranded. This accident has been compared to the recent Triumph fire.

February 27, 2012 – Carnival Corp.’s subsidiary, Costa Cruises was involved in a cruise ship fire just one month after another ship, the Costa Concordia, capsized off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people. This time, the Costa Allegra, which suffered an engine room fire while sailing off the West coast of Africa. The vessel had to be towed to the Seychelles and was scrapped as a total loss.

Accidents Caused by Negligence in Providing Cruise Ship Safety

It would seem logical that with a history of fires breaking out on their vessels, Carnival Corp. would do all it could to improve safety onboard, but considering this latest Triumph fire , it hasn’t happened yet.

If the fire onboard the Triumph is found to have been caused by crewmember negligence in failing to find the leak, or because of prior mechanical trouble the ship had faced, the company might be found to be at least partially responsible for last week’s accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

Giving Carnival the benefit of the doubt, let’s say the crew did do everything they could, checked and rechecked the whole vessel before it took off and no sign of a leak was ever evident. A critical question still remains unanswered: How can the world’s largest cruise company allow a fire that was apparently contained to the engine room, to disable the entire 101,000-ton ship for five days?

What this suggests is that there was no redundancy built into the design of the ship to enable it to continue to function as a cruise ship should in the event of a fire, and that the emergency back-up equipment and protocols that were in place onboard were completely insufficient.

What this Means for Triumph Passengers

As part of maritime law, cruise ship operators are responsible for providing a safe environment onboard all their vessels. A safe environment encompasses many areas, including making sure all equipment is running properly, fully training all crewmembers for emergency evacuations, providing a sanitary environment for passengers (and crewmembers), among many, many other matters.

Passengers on the Triumph were subjected to conditions that no cruise passenger should have to endure in today’s day and age and much less on a luxury cruise ship. Picture being stuck in the middle of nowhere, with no power, limited food and few working toilets for 5 days. This isn’t exactly the relaxing vacation anyone thought they were going to have when they started their cruise.

Carnival has offered guests the refunding of their cruise, credit towards a future booking, travel expense reimbursement and $500, but that is all. And because cruise lines include stipulations in their ticket contracts, for some people it will not be worth it to go out and find a lawyer to take their case unless they were injured and have damages beyond those listed above.

We don’t really know why Carnival decided to tow the vessel were it did rather than to closer ports probably money had a lot to do with it, and the attempt to save money was probably a factor in the chain of events that ultimately resulted in the fire in the first place. But so long as these cruise lines are allowed to continue to be flagged outside of the U.S., they will be able to continue to get around the heightened scrutiny that the NTSB and the Coast Guard would apply to investigating this incident.

All the major cruise lines have a sweetheart deal with the U.S. government, and until the cruising public, which is mainly comprised of U.S. Citizens, does not demand more regulations of the lines by the U.S. it will not come to be.

Photo Credits:

Top Right: Carnival Being Towed to Mobile, AL by Tugboats –
Middle Center: Carnival Ecstasy and Carnival Splendor Fires –
Middle Left: Coast Guard Investigates Pipe Leak –
Bottom Left/Right – Passengers onboard Triumph –

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