Carnival Cruise Lines Knew About Fire Risks Before Their Ship Sailed

On February 10, 2013, all the hallmarks of a potential tragedy struck the Carnival Triumph as it sailed the Gulf of Mexico on its way back from a stop in Cozumel. Engine No. 6 had a leaky hose, causing what turned out to be a major fire. Thankfully, there was no injury at sea that day, but the fire was enough to turn the mighty vessel into little more than a floating raft. Now, new information gleaned from court filings shows that Carnival Cruise Lines was aware of leaky hose dangers in advance of the cruise, and failed to take the recommended precautions. Chief among the incriminating documents is a compliance notice report which was sent to the cruise ship a month before its February 7th departure date. The document recommended that Carnival maintenance staff should install spray shields on the fuel hoses to prevent fire from breaking out in case of a leak. The report, which surfaced in Miami court filings on December 17th, was sent by Carnival itself to the staff of the Triumph. Still, Carnival argues that the report was centered only on fuel hoses above the engine floor plates. The fuel hose that caused the fire of February 10th was located below the floor. Maritime law firms will undoubtedly note that nothing in the report makes a distinction between the two. Also of interest is the fact that the maintenance staff of the Triumph appeared to have made at least some progress toward installing the recommended spray shields. Many of the shields were completed at the time of the fateful cruise, though not the ones on Engine 6, the site of the fuel fire. For their part, Carnival is adamant that their shielding recommendations went above and beyond the call of legal regulations. For a maritime attorney invested in the case, this denial will likely form the crux of any successful defense of the company. All of this new information about Carnival’s responsibility and foreknowledge comes as a result of a lawsuit being filed against the corporation on behalf of dozens of Triumph passengers. Frank Spagnoletti, an attorney of record for the plaintiffs, went on record to claim Carnival was willingly negligent in letting the ship sail from Galveston without addressing the recommended maintenance. While no one was killed or injured as a result of the fire, it left more than 4,000 passengers stranded at sea for several days before being towed into Mobile, Alabama. The ship’s journey came to be known by its passengers as the “poop cruise”, so named for the lack of working toilets that left travelers stranded in their own sewage for close to a week. While the incident was a public relations nightmare for the popular cruise company at the time, the details emerging from the lawsuit could prove to be even more disastrous. Adding insult to injury, CNN, in their coverage of the released documents, pointed out that Carnival’s fine print makes no guarantees for safe travels, living conditions, or even a vessel worthy of the sea. While this fine print may be adequately laid out on the ticket, few legal analysts would expect such a disclaimer to protect Carnival from liability in a case such as this. If anything, publicity surrounding such a disclaimer may make it even more difficult for the cruise line to recover from the negative press. For now, Carnival publicly derides the lawsuit as a waste of time and money, issuing a statement which calls the suit frivolous. They note in their statement that the Coast Guard cleared the ship as the result of an inspection before its February 7th departure, and claim the incident was nothing more than an accident. Time will tell if an eventual jury sees things the same way.