Report: Crew member's 'critical error' caused fire to cripple Carnival Splendor in 2010

Mistake delayed flame-suppression system

SAN DIEGO - A crew member's "critical error" allowed a fire to cripple a cruise ship 150 miles south of San Diego in the fall of 2010, resulting in a 72-hour ordeal for 4,500 people stuck on the disabled vessel, according to a U.S. Coast Guard report.

The mistake -- an ill-timed reset of a fire-alarm panel just after the blaze erupted -- delayed the activation of a flame-suppression system aboard the Carnival Splendor for 15 minutes and allowed the engine-room fire to knock out the ship's electrical systems, the federal maritime agency concluded.

The Panamanian-flagged cruise ship was partially powered by auxiliary generators after the Nov. 8, 2010, fire, which wound up burning for about seven hours, but its engineers were unable to restore its propulsion systems.

The 952-foot vessel had to be towed to San Diego Bay, arriving three days later.

Several U.S. military vessels, including the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, aided the occupants of the disabled liner during the ordeal, delivering emergency supplies, providing security and helping coordinate the return to safe harbor.

The outcomes of the non-injury emergency prompted the Coast Guard to issue two safety alerts and other recommendations to the cruise line about the operation, testing and maintenance of its onboard carbon-dioxide fire-extinguishing systems, according to the report, released Monday.

For its part, Carnival "took steps to evaluate fire safety systems, firefighting doctrine and training, procedures for inspection and testing of installed safety systems," the document states.

Specifically, the company did away with a 40-second delay in the automatic activation of its "Hi-Fog" flame-suppression system and "implemented short and long-term solutions to rectify the problems associated with the activation of the CO2 system," according to the report.

In response to the Coast Guard document, officials with the cruise line released a statement asserting that they "agree with the U.S. Coast Guard's conclusions surrounding fire detection and firefighting processes and (have taken) numerous actions throughout our fleet as a result, including the creation of a fire-safety task force."

"Those efforts resulted in the implementation and enhancements of a number of processes, training and equipment, as well as the formation of a new marine-safety department," the company stated.

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