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Princess Confirms Cruise Ship Fire Started on a Balcony

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.

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