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It might appear unbelievable that fires are a problem for vessels surrounded by water from all sides, yet several incidences of boiler room fires on cruise ships in recent years have raised questions about just how common ocean liner fires really are.


Just last month, the Holland America ship Westerdam was forced to cut short her voyage from Seattle to Alaska when a fire broke out in one of the boiler rooms. The ship, which was carrying 2,086 passengers and 798 crew members, returned to port in Seattle for a safety inspection after the fire was extinguished. Fortunately, no one was injured, and representatives from Holland America said the ship would depart again as soon as assessments were complete.


More famously, an engine room fire on the Carnival Cruise ship Triumph disabled the ship’s propulsion, air conditioning, and sewage systems, leaving passengers and crew members drifting in the Gulf of Mexico for several days last February. Several passengers sued because of the horrendous conditions they had to endure as a result of that fire.


Accidents as disastrous as the fire aboard Triumph unsurprisingly garner a lot of media attention, but just how many cruise ship fires are being played down or going unreported altogether?


Cruise Industry Makes It Difficult to Find Accident Statistics


The answer is, we don’t know. It’s incredibly difficult to find accurate statistics for cruise ship accidents such as running aground, losing power, or experiencing a boiler room fire, simply because the cruise industry is not obligated to report all these incidences. Most cruise lines, even if they’re based in the United States, have permission to register their ships overseas. That means they’re not legally required to report accidents to the US government and, since accidents are bad for business, they have no real incentive to do it, either.


There are some individuals who have made an effort to compile accident statistics based on reports from a variety of sources. Ross A. Klein, a Canadian professor of sociology and former cruise enthusiast, is one of them. He runs the website, which reports cruise ship accidents based on news reports and testimonies from passengers and crew members. Based on his data, Klein discovered that there were 79 fires on cruise ships between 1990 and 2011 (roughly 6 or 7 fires a year). Klein told The New York Times that he actually believes this number is low, because he mostly receives reports from ships that were traveling from North America or Europe, and he does not usually receive reports or testimonies that are in a language other than English.


Fires Are Relatively Rare, but Warrant Attention


Cruise AccidentsBased on the number of cruise ships and passengers that choose to travel on these vessels every year, fire-related accidents affect a proportionally small number of crew members and passengers. Most incidences, such as the recent one on Holland America’s Westerdam, are relatively minor and may cause nothing more than an early return to port. A few, however, such as the fire onboard the Triumph, are much more serious and cause power outages that threaten the safety and health of passengers and crew members alike. Cruise lines need to perform thorough, regular maintenance checks on their ships in order to minimize the chances of a dangerous fire putting people’s lives in danger.


Passengers who are on board a ship where a fire breaks out should speak out about the accident in order to hold the cruise line accountable. If you or a loved one has experienced an injury as a result of a cruise ship fire, talk to a cruise ship accident lawyer as soon as possible.


About the Author:

Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”—an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state—and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”