Carnival Splendor Fire Update: First Coast Guard Report Cites 'Recipe for Failure'

December 22, 2010
Carnival-Splendor-cruise-ship (6:45 p.m. EST) -- In the first of what's likely to be numerous incident reports connected to the Carnival Splendor fire, the U.S. Coast Guard yesterday issued a pair of marine safety alerts revealing that onboard firefighting equipment failed to operate as designed. The two reports -- "Wrong Directions: A Recipe for Failure" and "Simple Failures Render CO2 System Inoperative" -- address concerns discovered during Carnival Splendor's ongoing marine causality investigation following the November engine room fire that left the ship adrift off the coast of Mexico. While the ship referenced in the report isn't named, the Coast Guard confirmed to industry publication Professional Mariner that it was indeed Splendor. According to the documents, firefighters from the vessel's quick-response team effectively responded to and extinguished the blaze using portable extinguishing equipment. However, before it was declared completely extinguished and approximately five hours after the fire started, the master of the vessel, Claudio Cupisti, made the decision to release CO2 from the fixed firefighting system. It failed to operate as designed. Subsequently, crewmembers were unable to activate it manually, and CO2 was never directed into the machinery space. The Coast Guard cites problems with both the ship's Fire Instruction Manual (FIM) -- which includes systems specs and usage instructions -- and the physical system, which had been recently serviced and inspected by an authorized service provider. These include: Numerous piping and hose connections leaked extensively. Certain elements of the distribution manifold contained low points that allowed the accumulation of water within piping that could not be drained. Such a circumstance could cause corrosion and possibly negatively affect operation of other components. The zone valve for the aft machinery space -- which admits CO2 from the bottle bank manifold to the space -- failed. Specifically, the ball valve's opening actuating arm fell off the valve when the gas-powered piston actuator attempted to move it. The FIM refers extensively to a Control Panel that differs vastly from the one onboard the vessel. The FIM states that the CO2 release station is on the starboard side of the vessel when in fact it is located on the port side. The FIM incorrectly uses the word "Pull" when it should read "Turn" in reference to the operation of valves. The FIM contains the following confusing language: "Once the fire has been extinguished make sure that the temperature has decreased before investigate the area same time is needed to wait hours." It is unclear at this time what impact the failure of the fixed firefighting system had on the damage to the ship. The reports are designed to warn those in the maritime industry -- ship builders, classification societies, owners and operators -- of potential safety risks. Cruise Critic reached out to the Coast Guard and Carnival via e-mail. The Coast Guard's investigation of Carnival Splendor is ongoing. --by Dan Askin, Associate Editor

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