On Tuesday, July 31, a drunken, unruly passenger aboard the Finnish cruise ship — Cinderella, operated by Viking Line — set his underwear on fire and caused the surrounding cabin to fill with dangerous smoke.
According to reports, crew aboard Cinderella chose to place a security officer outside the holding cell they were using to detain a passenger (in his 50’s) to prevent him from escaping.
The passenger’s had been detained for aggressive and intoxicated behavior.
While being held, the drunken passenger removed his underwear and set it aflame without alerting others. Smoke gathered to such an extent that the detector was activated, at which point crew members were alerted to the dangerous activities of the passenger. Crew members immediately used a fire extinguisher to put out the flames. Following this event, the three crew members who inhaled the smoke were — as a precaution — sent to a local hospital for a check-up. Fortunately, doctors found that the three crew members exposed to smoke were unharmed.
The incident is under further investigation, both internally and by Finnish police authorities.
We are pleased to hear that the fire was contained, that the smoke did not expose many others to harm, and that the crew members who inhaled the smoke were unaffected by their exposure. Further, we believe that the crew’s decision to confine the drunken, unruly passenger (and to have a security officer guarding the holding cell while the passenger sobered up) was quite sensible.
Viking Line is not blameless, however. It is not clear how and why the unruly passenger got access to a lighter or matches while detained. The choice to have supervising personnel outside of the holding cell (and not inside) is questionable, as well. Had the security officer been able to keep watch of the passenger directly, the incident would likely not have occurred. In the present case, if there had been injuries, it is possible that Viking Line — the cruise operator — could be held liable for damages.
Crew Must Secure Vessel Against Dangerous Passengers
In the present case, crew members secured the vessel (to some degree) against the dangers presented by the unruly, intoxicated passenger, but appear to have failed to follow-through appropriately. It is good practice to isolate aggressive passengers. It keeps them away from others they might harm and can lower the risk of them even harming themselves. For example, drunken passengers often get into fights and otherwise injure other passengers or themselves.
Unfortunately, the crew members in this case did not take the necessary steps to ensure that the passenger while detained, would not be able to engage in behavior dangerous to himself or others. It would appear there was not searched of this passenger for dangerous elements prior to his detention. On the other hand, perhaps when searched he was allowed items to keep a lighter or matches because he smoked. If that were the case, it was a grave mistake. A detained and unwatched individual should not have access to fire starting devises or weapons.
Further, security personnel posted to detain an individual should always be able to observe the detainee at will. In the present case, the security personnel were located outside of the holding cell, thus permitting many opportunities for the detainee to start the fire noticed. It was not until the smoke detector activated that crew members became aware of the dangerous behavior of the passenger. Had the smoke detector been faulty, the ship could have sustained serious damage, and many more lives endangered by the fire.
Alternatively, the passenger could have fallen asleep, thrown up on himself, and choked to death or survived and be brain damaged. It is not a good practice to ever lock a drunk person in a room and not observe them while there and until sobered up. By the way had the drunk passenger been hurt while detained and not supervised he or his family would then have a claim against the line for his wrongful death or injuries.
We Can Help
If you have been injured in a fire-related accident aboard a ship — whether you are a crew member or a passenger — you may be entitled to damages as compensation for your various injuries. In fact, depending on the circumstances surrounding your injuries, you may have a right of action against both the vessel operator and the third-party individual responsible for causing the fire. Further, even if your actions precipitated an action by the Line that resulted in undue harm to you – you may have a claim against the Line for the undue harm you suffer.
Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A. our attorneys have over a century of combined experience advocating on behalf of injured passengers and crew members in a range of maritime and admiralty actions brought against cruise and ferry operators. Having litigated over 2000 cases in total — many in the realm of maritime and admiralty law — we understand the complexities typical of such litigation, and how best to proceed to secure maximum compensation for our clients.
The present case occurred in Finland. If you sustain injuries abroad, you may still be entitled to damages — that the incident takes place in international waters does not obviate your right to recovery. Here at Lipcon, our offices are located in the state of Florida, but we have an extensive record of accomplishment in handling claims in various other state jurisdictions, at the federal level, and in courtrooms worldwide.
Curious about your claims? We encourage you to contact us today to speak with a maritime lawyer at Lipcon for further assistance.