Local 2 investigates Carnival Cruise fires

Author: Joel Eisenbaum, Investigative Reporter, Anchor, jeisenbaum@kprc.com
Published On: Feb 19 2013 02:14:12 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 20 2013 08:59:28 AM CST
HOUSTON -

Since November, 2010, three Carnival cruise ships have caught fire, lost power and drifted without propulsion, Local 2 has learned.

"I thought I was watching a documentary about the Carnival Splendor which ignited off the coast of Mexico back in November 2010," said Jim Walker, a maritime lawyer, after watching initial coverage of the Carnival Triumph's recent woes.

In February 2011, an onboard fire crippled the Costa Allegra in the Indian Ocean. The ship was so heavily damaged it never returned to service. It is now slated to be scrapped. Costa Cruises is a subsidiary of Carnival Corporation.

While the engine room mechanical failures in the three incidents do not appear to be related, critics believe a pattern of pushing employees and equipment beyond reasonable limits could lead to eventual catastrophe.

"If there is a problem with the U.S. commercial aviation fleet, the fleet is shut down. You don't have anything comparable in the cruise industry," Walker said.

The U.S. Coast Guard can and does inspect cruise ships though announced inspections, but enforcement ability is murky water. The overwhelming majority of cruise ships are registered in foreign countries, and those countries have jurisdiction when it comes to fleet oversight.

"They've avoided taxes and they've avoided regulations. The safety of these ships resides with Third World countries," said Ken Carver, founder and president of the International Cruise Victims Association.

In December 2010, the United States Coast Guard issued two marine safety alerts widely believed to identify major failings with the Carnival Splendor, which caught fire a month earlier. The documents do not specifically reference any ship by name. (Read attachments here.)

"Essentially, it was a decision to not embarrass the cruise lines by putting the name of the ship," Walker said.

The price tag for cruise ships that require emergency assistance at sea is both expensive and shouldered by taxpayers.

In 2010, aid from the USS Ronald Reagan to Carnival Splendor cost $1.88 million, according to government documents obtained by Local 2.

Local 2 Investigator, Joel Eisenbaum, sent the following questions to Carnival Corporation.

Carnival sent the following response:

"Throughout Carnival Cruise Lines' 41-year history, we have maintained an excellent safety record and the safety and security of our guests, crew and vessels have always been our top priority. Emergency situations, such as fire, occur very rarely and our crew are highly trained to manage any situation that may arise. Carnival Cruise Lines' ships comply with all relevant maritime and cruise industry rules and regulations. Each Carnival ship is fully certified by a flag administration and classification society, and those organizations audit every ship in the fleet at regular intervals.

"Carnival Splendor had an explosion in a diesel generator. Carnival Triumph had a fire in the engine room. These were two very different events and we have no reason to believe that they are related. After the Carnival Splendor fire, we made a number of changes throughout our fleet.

"Carnival Triumph is currently undergoing a detailed damage assessment in cooperation with the U.S. Coast Guard, National Transportation Safety Board and the Bahamas Maritime Authority to determine the cause of the fire and we will apply the resulting findings.

"Regarding your question about the U.S. Coast Guard's assistance, the USCG would have to address the level of aid they extended but in situations such as this, traditionally, this is one of the many valuable services the U.S.C.G. provides and we greatly appreciate their assistance."

"Hope this is helpful. any questions, please let me know."

Regards, Vance Gulliksen, Carnival PR