Hearings on Tropicale cruse ship fire sould affect ship safety worldwide: cause still a mystery

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Hearings on Tropicale Fire Begin With Ship's Captain

By Vickie Chachere Associated Press Writer

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - On the eve of the U.S. Coast Guard's hearing into the fire that crippled the cruise ship Tropicale, the officer leading the investigation said Monday the findings here could affect ship safety worldwide.

Capt. Michael Rosecrans said the Coast Guard mainly wants to know what caused the September 1999 boiler room fire that stranded the Carnival Cruise Lines ship and its 1,700 passengers and crew in the Gulf of Mexico. There were no deaths or injuries in the mishap.

Investigators estimate the fire reached 900 to 1,200 degrees and was so intense that paint on the outside of the ship's hull was singed and blistered. Pictures made public Monday show the door of the boiler blown off from the force of the fire and heavy metal equipment melted into nearly indistinguishable forms.

"The purpose of this is not to find fault," Rosecrans said. "I'm here to find out what happened. If someone made a mistake, I'm trying to find out why they made the mistake, were they tired? Were they drunk?

".., If there is something wrong with the (safety) system on the Tropicale," he said, "there is something wrong with it on other ships."

Rosecrans said the findings from the inquest eventually will be forwarded to the International Maritime Organization in London, the international panel that sets standards for cruise ship safety and training. The Coast Guard is an influential voice in setting such standards.

The inquiry is a joint investigation being carried out with the nation of Liberia, under whose flag the 660-foot Tropicale sails.

Mike Armstrong, the nautical inspector for the Republic of Liberia for its ships based in Tampa, also plans to question the 18 witnesses scheduled to testify during the next two weeks.

"It's still a mystery," Armstrong said of the fire. "We are only half way through gathering information."

The 18-year-old ship is back sailing, and left Tampa Monday afternoon for a two-day cruise in the Gulf of Mexico.

The hearings begin Tuesday with testimony from Vito Garuccio, 55, the captain on the ill-fated voyage that some passengers dubbed "the cruise from hell." Crew members and fire experts also are scheduled to testify.

Along with the fire, passengers complained of backed-up toilets, a lack of drinking water and a panicky, unhelpful crew. And while they huddled in life vests amid thick black smoke, Tropical Storm Harvey churned through another region of the Gulf of Mexico.

A Coast Guard survey of passengers found that while few passengers felt their lives were in danger, nearly all of said there were no fire safety instructions given at the start of the cruise.

Passengers further complained that the captain did not provide them with information about the blaze. But two-thirds said there was sufficient crew available during the fire.

Depending on the findings from the inquest - which Coast Guard officials said likely won't be available for several months - Carnival could face financial penalties.

Carnival spokesman Tim Gallagher said the company has conducted its own internal investigation and those findings will be revealed to the Coast Guard during the hearings. He declined to offer any details of what those company findings are.

"I don't think there is anything conclusive at this point," Gallagher said. "What we have are theories."


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 21, 2000


If they want theories, its come to the right place. Sounds like a chip problem to me. What was GMT?

-- JOHN (LITTMANNJ@AOL.COM), February 21, 2000.

Carl, hi,

Thanks for all your excellent posts. I sailed US flag steamships in the 70's. In the beginning it all seems so romantic; then reality looks you in the face. It's probably the same with all the rookies who pay Carnivale Lines.

I'm surprised to read about the 'boiler door' being 'blown off'. I would have thought it was a diesel ship. Many, if not most, foreign flag ships use very large diesel engines for main propulsion and for auxiliary generators. The thing I remember most about the few diesel ships I went aboard while I was shipping: *everything* in the engine room is covered with a thin film of diesel fuel, *everything*! They're floating fire hazards.

Whenever I'm tempted to get on one of those things, I remember the line attributed (probably facetiously) to Herodotus: "A shipwreck at sea can ruin your whole day."

-- bz (beezee@statesville.net), February 21, 2000.

Thanks bz and thanks for the insights and the laugh!

-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 22, 2000.

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