The middle-of-the-night fire that spread rapidly to
more than 150 cabins on the Star Princess three weeks ago
as it cruised in the Caribbean did indeed start on the balcony
of a passenger cabin, Princess Cruises confirmed in an update
issued on April 13th.
While the cruise line, in a statement, said that at this
point "no definitive cause of the fire has yet been
determined," Princess has been trying harder -- anecdotally
with not much success -- to persuade passengers on its ships
to stop tossing lit cigarettes over the side.
Passengers this week on the Caribbean Princess -- which
has a similar balcony configuration to the Star Princess
-- told a Cruise Ship Report editor that cigarettes continued
to rain down on their balconies on the Caribe and Dolphin
decks (9 and 10) from above.
As shown in the photo at left, the balconies on those levels
are uniquely terraced out from the side of many of the newer
Princess ships, and are not enclosed like stateroom balconies
on most other cruise ships. Ironically, passengers who have
booked the mini-suites on the Dolphin deck both have the
widest balconies and the greatest exposure.
"I actually had an ice cube land on my head while
I was standing on my balcony," one Fort Myers, Florida,
resident told Cruise Ship Report.
While Princess did not identify the stateroom balcony where
the Star Princess fire started, the photo below suggests
it may have begun on one of the mini-suite balconies at
the center, and swept up to the balconies above.
As an intermediate step, Princess confirmed that it has
"implemented a 24-hour watch of our balconies."
The new fire watch is conducted from the wings of the bridge
that protrude for docking purposes on both sides of the
ship, and from a station on the aft of the ship.
Princess said it believes that the terrifying outbreak
of fire on the Star Princess, which miraculously did not
directly claim any lives, was "an isolated incident."
But given the line's
confirmation that the rapid spread of the fire occurred
from balcony to balcony, which unlike passenger cabins
are not equipped with sprinklers, the Star Princess
fire seems certain to spark new industry-wide measures
aimed at verandah fire-suppression.
Princess said it was "moving quickly to provide
long-term and permanent measures to improve fire safety
on our balconies," but did not provide any details.
The Star Princess, meanwhile, is currently docked
at Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven, Germany where it is
undergoing repairs. Princess said it hopes to have
it ready to resume cruises on May 15th.
The text of the Princess Cruises statement follows:
"Although no definitive cause of the fire has yet
been determined, we can confirm that the fire did start
on one of the ship's balconies, and spread to other balconies.
"We believe the fire is an isolated incident, and
would like to stress that our company has been safely operating
ships with large numbers of balconies for over ten years.
This is the first such incident that has occurred.
"Nevertheless, after the fire we immediately put in
place on all our ships precautions designed to ensure that,
in the unlikely event of a similar situation happening again,
we would be able to quickly detect and extinguish the fire.
"To that end, we implemented a 24-hour fire watch
of our balconies, introduced specific training and fire
response procedures for our crew in handling fires on balconies,
enhanced communication to passengers regarding fire safety,
and changed certain crew housekeeping procedures on balconies.
"We want to assure our passengers that with these
measures in place, they should not be concerned, and can
feel confident that their safety and well being aboard our
ships is not compromised.
"Further to the immediate precautionary measures already
in place, we are moving quickly to provide long-term and
permanent measures to improve fire safety on our balconies.
"We are well advanced with the development of these
permanent measures and, naturally, will be taking fully
into account the requirements of the regulatory authorities
in both the United Kingdom and the United States.