Maritime Lawyers Discuss Philippines Ferry Fire

Lipcon, Marguiles, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A

Yesterday, at 11:45AM on September 2, 2018, all 92 passengers and 29 crew members traveling aboard M/V Lite Ferry — a ferry owned and operated by Lite Shipping Corporation, a Philippines-based shipping company — were rescued after a fire broke out on the vessel.  M/V Lite Ferry was moving along its normal route from Tagbilaran Port in Bohol to Taloot Port in Argao (both ports within the province of Cebu).  The fire was discovered when the ferry was nearing Taloot Port and readying for the docking process, at which point rescue operations were initiated.

According to reports, the fire began in the engine room, though the cause is currently unknown.  In response to the fire, two coast guard vessels immediately made their way to the ferry to perform firefighting services to put out the blaze.  Further, a private cargo ship — LCT Miami — left Taloot Port to assist with rescue operations.  Reports indicate that all passengers and crew members were successfully removed from M/V Lite Ferry onto LCT Miami and thereafter brought to the port.  Rescue operations were complete by 12:45PM, just one hour after the fire broke out.

We are relieved that all passengers and crew members aboard the vessel were safely brought to shore, and that there have been no reported injuries (or deaths) thus far — it appears that the nature and location of the incident was such that rescue operations could be conducted in a swift manner.

We are, however, somewhat perturbed by what might have occurred had M/V Lite Ferry not been so lucky as to sustain the engine room fire so close to Taloot Port.  Based on the circumstances, it seems that M/V Lite Ferry required the firefighting services of two coast guard vessels.  This gives us pause — if M/V Lite Ferry did not have sufficient fire safety equipment (and trained crew members) to fight the blaze, then the incident could have been disastrous had it occurred further away from Taloot Port, where coast guard vessels would have taken longer to respond.

For example, in 2010, the Carnival Splendor was about 200 miles south of San Diego when a fire occurred in the engine room.   Due to defective and faulty automated fire suppression system, the fire took over five hours to be extinguished manually.  The vessel experienced a total loss of power, leaving the vessel adrift at sea for days.  Guests found themselves without electricity, air conditioning or properly running toilets. Over 70,000 pounds of supplies, including drinking water and food, had to be brought in via helicopter from a nearby Navy aircraft carrier.

Had any passengers or crew members suffered injuries due to the fire in the present case, it’s possible that they would have had an actionable claim for damages against the shipping company.

Vessels Must Be Properly Maintained and On-Board Fire Equipment Adequate

In the present case, there are two primary points of concern: 1) the engine room caught fire, and 2) the on-board fire safety systems (and equipment) appear to have been insufficient for putting out the blaze.

Ferry operators must exercise reasonable care in maintaining their vessels.  Failure to do so could expose them to significant civil liability in the event of injuries or death.  Engine room fires may be the result of improper maintenance — companies must invest the resources (and training) necessary to adequately inspect and maintain the vessel so that such incidents do not occur, or at the very least, occur with much less frequency.

Of course, when fires do occur, the vessel must be equipped with a fire safety system and equipment sufficient to put out the blaze.  In the present case, firefighting services from two nearby coast guard vessels were necessary.  Though the facts are not yet fully known, it seems that the sprinkler system, extinguisher equipment, and potentially crew member training may have simply been inadequate to safely battle the fire.  Had injuries occurred due to the delay required for third-party vessels to come to the aid of M/V Lite Ferry, then a claim for damages may have been justified.

We Can Help

If you have suffered injuries in a fire-related incident while aboard a ferry or cruise ship, then you may have a right of action for damages, depending on the circumstances of the fire and the emergency response executed by crew members.  The vessel operator may attempt to avoid liability through various means, however, so it’s important that you consult with a team of seasoned maritime attorneys with the experience necessary to effectively navigate the challenges typical of such litigation.

Here at Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, P.A., our attorneys boast over 100 years of combined experience representing injured passengers and crew members in a range of disputes, including those that involve engine room failures and fire-related incidents, such as in the present case.  Though our firm handles a variety of cases, our primary focus is on maritime and admiralty law.  As such, we are well-equipped to pursue maximum damages on your behalf, whether through a favorable settlement or a verdict secured at trial.

In the present case, the ferry accident at-issue occurred in Cebu, Philippines.  Many potential litigants worry that — if their claims arise abroad — that they will have a limited right to recovery.  This is not true, however.  You are entitled to a reasonably safe ferry journey regardless of jurisdiction.  Here at Lipcon, though our offices are located in Florida, we have had a great deal of success handling claims in courtrooms around the world.

We encourage you to contact our firm today to speak to one of our experienced maritime lawyers for further guidance on how to proceed with your claims.