MIAMI, Florida–Fires breaking out on passenger ships is unfortunately not a rare event. This reported story is about the Zahro Express, a tourist boat in Indonesia. The boat was carrying about 250 passengers to an island north of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta when the boat caught fire. This tragedy ended by taking the lives of 23 passengers, who are reported dead as a result of this fire. Additionally, around 17 passengers were also injured and another 17 people are still missing. The fire cause, according to police, was believed to be an explosion in the engine room. It was accidental and most likely due to some sort of electrical fault.
What regulations this passenger ship in Indonesia was subjected to, what inspection they received on a regular basis, what certifications they had, and what other safety measures were in effect to deal with the possibility of a fire is unknown. What we do know is that accidents on the water in Indonesia are pretty frequent. Vessels are often overloaded and there are never enough life jackets for all the passengers.
We have previously written about the dangers of fires aboard cruise ships, and how they can be much more deadly than a fire on land because of the inability to have the fire department respond promptly. A fire at sea leaves a vessel pretty much on its own, with no trained firefighters and limited equipment involved in extinguishing a fire. A vessel also has to deal with problems the fire could cause, such as the loss of propulsion or damage to the vessel.
There is also the issues of potential evacuations that might have to take place, which then brings into place what type of procedures the ship company has in effect for evacuation procedures during emergencies. As we saw here, there is no emergency escape except the water. That makes life jackes crucial . According to reports, people were fighting for life jackets on the boat. Young kids had to jump into the water without any sort of flotation device.
Sadly this is one of many fatal fires on the water. Many years ago, more than 150 passengers were killed aboard a passenger ferry when a fire broke out en route from Denmark to Sweden. The cruise ship had previously been operated by SeaEscape in the United States before it was traveling in the European countries. Many safety deficiencies were determined after the tragedy, including completely inadequate training of the crew, inadequate safety equipment, a lack of proper fire alarms and sprinkler systems, as well as many other deficiencies which should have prevented the vessel from ever being determined seaworthy and allowed to sail with the passengers aboard.
Despite these safety deficiencies, a major classification society in charge of inspecting and certifying vessels as seaworthy, certified the vessel as safe to sail and to remain what they called in class. Following the fatal fire, a lawsuit was brought against this classification society for not documenting these deficiencies, and for negligently issuing the certification
Fires aboard passenger ships remain a danger of cruising. It is critical that all ships are properly regulated and subject to stringent requirements regarding fire prevention and proper procedures in responding to an emergency such as a fire.