Fire Aboard Fred Olsen’s Black Watch Cruise Ship: Is the Industry Adequately Prepared?

fireA fire at sea poses unique safety risks, risks passengers often do not consider before embarking on a cruise. When a fire breaks out on land, we have personnel who are highly trained in firefighting, responding with sophisticated equipment. When a fire breaks out aboard a cruise ship, we must rely on the crew members, in whatever training the cruise ship company has provided, responding with limited equipment.

Another obvious safety hazard present from a cruise ship fire is the inability to run somewhere for safety. Often times on land a quick escape is easy as there is a place to run to safety. On a cruise ship, there are limited areas where passengers can escape to, short of being evacuated off the ship. A shipboard evacuation of thousands of passengers is an enormous undertaking, which presents many safety hazards in and of itself. Most of us heard about the disaster with the Costa Concordia evacuation efforts.

Another safety issue is the fact that the crew members are often from different nationalities. During a fire, the language barriers that are present aboard cruise ships often make it difficult for the crew members  to communicate with each other, as well as the passengers, in order to safely perform a rescue effort.

We have also read about cruise ships that have lost power during fires. This is an additional safety risk because a cruise ship without power is subjected to the conditions at sea. In addition, the loss of power can result in services aboard the ship falling below adequate standards, subjecting passengers to other types of harms from the substandard conditions.

Recently, there been many positive changes on cruises, including the type of materials that are permitted to be used in the building of the  ships. A major factor in spreading the fire on cruise ships was due to the type of materials used on the ship, which were not designed to avoid the spread of fire as often required on land. Tragic injuries and deaths led to these changes

Emergency drills are also a critical part of a life-saving approach to a disaster, like a fire, aboard a cruise ship. Until recently, laws were not adequate with respect to the requirement of performing safety drills before cruise ships sailed. The Costa Concordia disaster resulted in changes with the requirement regarding safety drills.

Our firm had to deal with a tragic fire aboard the Scandinavian Star cruise ship years ago that resulted in the death of 159 people. The investigation of the fire revealed that there were many safety deficiencies, including the lack of a properly trained crew, a lack of proper lighting when the power was lost, which would have provided an escape route for passengers, as well as a lack of appropriate fire sprinkler systems throughout the ship, and other emergency measures.

Although we have seen an increase in safety measures regarding fires, a fire aboard a cruise ship still presents a major safety concern. Fortunately, many of the fires we have heard about in the past several years have been small fires that have been confined to a particular area aboard the ship. The most recent fire we heard about was last week aboard Fred Olsen’s  Black Watch cruise ship. The ship was carrying 696 passengers and 365 crew. The fire started in the engine room, damaging three out of the seven auxiliary engines.  Although passengers and crew aboard the Black Watch were fortunate to not have experienced any fatalities, they did remain on a ship without power  for several hours.

While there is no intent to scare people who go on a cruise, the reality is that there can be more than 6000 people aboard a cruise ship plying the high seas when a fire breaks out. All of the people aboard that ship have to rely on the crew to be able to adequately respond to the fire and respond to the more than 6000 people, including a possible evacuation effort.  We pray such a situation will never occur, but if it does, it is likely going to have to be handled without any prior experience.

Our firm has been helping those injured from cruise ship accidents and boating accidents for over 30 years. If you have been injured in an accident on the water call us today for a free consultation.