Update: Coast Guard Says Fuel Leak Caused Carnival Triumph Fire; Praises Ship's Crew

February 17, 2013

Update: 6 a.m. EST, Feb. 19: A leak from a fuel oil return line was determined to be the cause for the engine-room fire onboard Carnival Triumph that left the ship adrift at sea for nearly five days.

A Coast Guard spokesperson pinpointed the cause of the fire as the fuel line running between the No. 6 engine and the fuel tank, according to the Associated Press.

USCG Cmdr. Teresa Hatfield estimated that it would take six months to complete the full investigation into the Triumph fire, and praised the actions of Triumph's crew in their response to the blaze, saying they had done a "very good job."

The Bahamas Maritime Authority is leading the investigation, which has been ongoing since the ship arrived in Mobile, Alabama, but the USCG and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board are also participating.

(9:05 a.m. EST) -- Although investigators from the U.S. Coast Guard have pinpointed where the fire in the Carnival Triumph engine room began, they say it could take up to a year to determine the cause of the blaze.

Investigators began their inspection of Carnival Triumph's engine room on the same day that most of the ship's passengers finally returned home, after a nearly week-long ordeal in which they spent five days at sea without power or working toilets.

"We know that the fire originated in front of a generator," Patrick Cuty, a senior marine investigator for the U.S. Coast Guard, told CNN. "You can see the ignition marks on the wall."

Cuty said the investigation has already revealed Triumph's engine is intact and "probably operable." Therefore, he surmised, the fire did not originate with the engine itself. Ultimately, he said, a final determination as to the cause of the fire could take a year, and will follow an in-depth analysis of the ship's records, automated data and wiring.

The question of whether the fire is linked to the ship's propulsion problems in January, which were reportedly caused by a fault in one of the ship's six generators, will be answered much sooner, according to Cuty.

"We'll know by end of the next week whether the generator is the same one that was having an issue, an anomaly, in January" he told CNN, "according to passengers we interviewed from previous cruises."

In the meantime, Carnival Cruise Lines confirmed that all passengers have now departed Houston and Galveston. The line also confirmed a passenger with a foot injury was removed via stretcher and ambulance during the debarkation process.

The fire onboard Carnival Triumph left the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico, reliant upon tugboats and resupply missions from other Carnival ships to return to port in Mobile, Alabama. Disembarkation took several hours, and many passengers faced long bus journeys to catch flights out of New Orleans or return to the cruise's original point of departure, Galveston, Texas.

Passenger reports of conditions onboard continue to circulate through the national media, and the first lawsuit has already been filed. Lawyers for Cassie Terry of Brazoria County, Texas filed a lawsuit in Miami federal court, Reuters reported. The suit charges Carnival with failing to provide a seaworthy ship and sanitary conditions. Terry further claims to have suffered physical and emotional harm, including anxiety, nervousness and the loss of the enjoyment of life.

--by Dori Saltzman, News Editor, and Jamey Bergman, U.K. Production Editor