It's (Pretty) Definite: Tossed Cigarette Caused Star Princess Fire

November 2, 2006

Britain's Marine Accident Investigations Branch, which has been charged with investigating the fire that broke out on Princess Cruises' Star Princess in March, now says that a discarded cigarette is most likely the culprit.

Though this is the first relatively definitive word on the cause, the fact that a cigarette caused the March 23 fire that resulted in the ship being out of commission for nearly two months won't surprise anyone who reads Cruise Critic. Indeed, rampant speculation began to spread immediately after the incident, in which one man died from smoke inhalation.

The fire started on a balcony, and what's most significant is that in response to the incident, cruise lines across the industry have spent millions refurnishing verandahs with non-inflammable materials and asking passengers not to leave clothing on their balconies. Some cruise lines, such as Crystal, whose Symphony will undergo a major dry dock refurbishment this month, is actually replacing the existing privacy panels on the ship with those that are less flammable.

Within Princess itself, major changes have been made since then -- though most agree that crew handled the outbreak of fire superbly. Among the enhancements include a significantly more comprehensive muster drill for embarking passengers. Crew members now monitor balconies for fire on a 24-hour basis. The line has also replaced combustible materials, such as floor tiles and furniture, and installed fire detection and suppression systems on verandahs.

In a statement issued this week, the company noted that, "In our opinion, the report issued today provides a professional and balanced overview of the various aspects of the incident. It points out the many safeguards and procedures Princess had in place to protect passengers, and it confirms the professionalism demonstrated by our crew members, to whom we are very grateful.

"However, we also acknowledge that the report shows there were lessons to be learned by us, and that some aspects of our response to the fire, and related training, needed to be addressed. We can confirm that we immediately took corrective action and implemented procedures which addressed the shortcomings detailed in the report. Today, there are no recommendations made by MAIB that Princess has not met.

"The measures that are now in place across our fleet will enable us to prevent, quickly detect and extinguish any fire. These include specialized training of our crew, the removal of combustible material from our balconies, and the addition of suppression and detection systems on our balconies.

"We want to assure our passengers that their safety, as well as that of our crew, is our first and most important priority, and we will continually evaluate all our procedures on an ongoing basis to ensure their well-being when they are on board our ships."

--by Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor