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Miami Fla--Cruise Ship Explosion Leaves 4 Dead and 16 Injured

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  • captstanm1
    UPDATE: The Investigation Continues

    Miami Herald

    Posted on Wed, Jun. 04, 2003

    Investigators put pieces together in ship explosion
    Early Norway report expected today

    [email protected]

    In a 50-foot-by-90-foot engine room in the bowels of the SS Norway, investigators sift through a jigsaw puzzle of debris to solve the mystery of the boiler explosion that killed seven crew members -- the highest loss of life onboard a cruise ship operating from the United States in the past 10 years, federal officials say.

    The answers could come from a chunk of twisted metal the size of a car door or from the delicate innards of a valve the size of a bottle cap.

    It's the job of a little-known team of investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board's marine safety arm to figure it out.

    They know an explosion ripped huge holes in the rear and starboard side of the steel casing that enclosed one of the boilers about an hour after the crew reduced power to the system, a normal procedure when in port. But they haven't determined precisely what happened on May 25 at the Port of Miami-Dade. They're expected to release a detailed preliminary report of the damage today.

    ''It was a major explosion'' said Marjorie Murtagh, director of the Office of Marine Safety, during a phone interview from Washington D.C. ``A very rare type of explosion on a cruise ship. If it had happened at sea, the ship would have been dead in the water. They would have had to have been rescued.''

    The marine office has 13 members to cover about 5,000 commercial-shipping accidents a year. Only 50 accidents warrant investigation, but with such a small team, it still has to pick carefully.

    The Norway was a natural because of the danger to the crew of 900 and the 2,100 passengers, Murtagh said. The explosion occurred after the Norway returned from a cruise and docked at the Port of Miami-Dade.

    Thus far, the investigation has been slow-going. ''They don't have an easy job down there,'' Murtagh said.

    There were four, two-story boilers cramped into the engine room. Now there are three, and the remains of the one that exploded.

    The powerful blast sent chunks of debris flying across the starboard side of the engine room. There is scant lighting. The team spends only 90 minutes at a time in the room, where ventilation systems have been cut off to stop asbestos from blowing around.


    As engineers sift through the evidence, they wear hazmat suits, thick rubber gloves and boots, respirator masks and air packs that make their movements clunky and slow, NTSB officials say. Journalists haven't been allowed onboard to watch the work.

    Despite the difficulties, the team is hopeful an answer will emerge, though it could take months.

    ''Fortunately, the information is there; it's not like the ship sank,'' said Capt. Robert Ford, who has been running the investigation since shortly after his beeper chirped at 9:45 a.m. on Sunday, May 25, while he pumped gas in the D.C. area.

    The explosion had happened three hours earlier.


    He and most of his team were on a flight by 1 p.m. and in Miami by 5:30 p.m. The members include:

    • Engineers Brian Curtis and Tom Roth-Ruffy, who investigate the boilers and review reams of inspection reports detailing the steam system's history.

    • Fire expert Nancy McAtee, who analyzes the pattern of the explosion.

    • Psychologist Barry Strauch, who explores the psyches and actions of crew members if human error emerges as a factor.

    • Rob Jones, a specialist who analyzes the operations of the bridge -- the ship's cockpit.

    • Jim Walsh, an expert in human safety who interviews crew members and passengers.

    • Gayl Glascoe -- on loan from the Naval Sea Systems Command. He'll examine the boilers' electronic circuitry.


    Among them they have more than 90 years of Merchant Marine experience, many sailing as captains, first mates and engineers.

    Unlike their higher profile counterparts in the NTSB's aviation division, the Norway team members won't have the benefit of ''black boxes'' common on larger airplanes that keep records of the plane's major operating systems and record conversations in the cockpit.

    They will put their puzzle together by collecting pieces of debris and sending them to labs in Washington for testing; by photographing and videotaping the damaged boiler, its frozen gauges and the engine room; and through interviews of crew members -- from the commanders to engine-room survivors to a busboy who might have heard something.

    They'll also send out questionnaires to a percentage of the passengers to see if they saw or heard anything useful.


    The investigators' setup at the port is less than cushy. The team is working out of Terminal One, a suite of offices right off the dock with a drab, worn rug. Fast-food containers litter the tables, which are piled high with newspapers. The walls are covered with ship plans.

    Though they're using digital, still and video cameras and computers, their methodology is less-than high tech.

    Their most valued tool: The Post-It Note. They use them to make a timeline and matrix of sorts that describes an event, the time it happened and any causes and effects that might surface.


    They study the board each night at their progress meetings and look for trends and directions in which to steer the investigation.

    When they get back to Washington, they will likely input all the information into a computer database program like Microsoft Excel ''to clean it up,'' Ford said.

    But there's no master computer to feed all the data into that will spit out various scenarios of what might have happened.

    ''We'll come to a conclusion based on our collective experience, sitting around and comparing notes and analyzing it with our minds, and then we'll present it to our board and they'll do the same,'' Ford said.

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  • RspctFrmCalgary
    Thanks so much for the updates Stan, I really appreciate it.

    Leave a comment:

  • captstanm1
    Death Toll Rises

    Local news reported yesterday that the death toll has now risen to 7 and some crew members till remain critical in local hospitals..

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  • captstanm1

    ST. PETERSBURG TIMES---State & Metro

    Death toll in cruise explosion rises to 5; crew member sues

    Associated Press, May 28, 2003 - 04:24 AM

    A man burned in the face, arms and legs in a boiler explosion on a cruise ship sued the vessel's operator, and the death toll in the tragedy rose to five.

    A lawyer for Abdi Comadia, 44, of Enos Caveti, Philippines, said the Norway, one of the few steam powered cruise ships docking in the United States was too old to operate.

    "It's like having a bomb on your ship," said lawyer Bill Huggett. The negligence lawsuit was filed Tuesday against Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line.

    Company spokeswoman Susan Robison did not return several messages left at her office and on her cell phone Tuesday.

    The latest victim in Sunday's blast died at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where 12 other crew members were still being treated, said spokeswoman Maria Rosa Gonzalez. The victim's identity was not released.

    All of the dead and injured were crew members on the Norway.

    Comadia, 44, was listed in good condition at the hospital. He is seeking $1 billion in punitive damages and $1 million in compensatory damages for his pain and suffering, Huggett said.

    Comadia, a cook, said he was in the shower one floor above the room where the boiler exploded. The steam released during the blast burned both arms, both legs and his face. He said he was partially protected by a towel wrapped around his waist and ran out of the shower, shouting for help.

    Huggett said this is not the first time that crew members have been injured aboard the Norway, built in 1961. He represented a Polish seaman who sued Norwegian Cruise Line in 1997 because he was burned by escaping steam. Huggett said that case was settled out of court for $2.5 million.

    The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the cause of the explosion. Miami-Dade police said that the explosion appeared to be an accident.

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  • RspctFrmCalgary
    OMG My heart goes out to the families and friends of the crew members killed. May they rest in peace.

    This is a crew member's worst nightmare come true. Through a couple of little fires, a collision with a dock (nice little hole in the hull on that one) storms and hurricanes, when I sailed for 3 1/2 years nobody ever lost their lives or were injured in any of the accidents.

    Leave a comment:

  • captstanm1
    Related Stories

    Here are links to some related stories....

    Ship Passed Inspection


    Accident Strands Passengers


    Leave a comment:

  • captstanm1
    Death Toll Rises to 5


    Posted on Mon, May. 26, 2003

    Explosion 'rocked' ship
    Passengers unhurt; no signs of sabotage are found, police say
    [email protected]

    A boiler room explosion aboard the SS Norway just 10 days after its annual inspection killed five crew members and injured more than a dozen others Sunday morning at the Port of Miami-Dade. The ship was ending a weeklong Caribbean cruise carrying more than 2,100 passengers.

    Police and the Coast Guard quickly and firmly dismissed fears of a terrorist connection, and a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said the agency was not involved in the investigation.

    ''There is absolutely no indication whatsoever of any criminal activity, no evidence of sabotage,'' Miami-Dade Police Director Carlos Alvarez said. Coast Guard spokeswoman Anastasia Burns said that by 5:30 p.m. four crew members had died: two at the scene and two at or en route to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

    The hospital said a crew member died there at 7:06 p.m.

    A police commander said investigators were looking at metal fatigue as a possible cause of the explosion and wanted to know the age of the 41-year-old ship's boiler. That information was not publicly available Sunday.

    A 10-person National Transportation Safety Board team flew in from Washington, D.C., Sunday afternoon and immediately got to work.

    Many of the passengers of the Norwegian Cruise Line ship were shocked awake by the 6:37 a.m. explosion, but none were hurt.

    The blast tossed crew members overboard, buckled doors and flooded the engine room with a blast of scorching pressurized steam. The cruise line could not provide details about the Norway's engine Sunday, but similar ships use steam as hot as 900 degrees.

    ''It will literally cook you right where you stand,'' said Miami-Dade fire-rescue spokesman Eugene Germain.

    The fatalities and critical injuries happened nearest to the blast, according to fire-rescue workers on the scene. One crewman was killed when a fissure tore through the boiler room's ceiling into the compartment above.

    The searing steam caused many of the injuries, officials said, and others were caused by the blast's shock wave, which turned machinery and debris into shrapnel.

    Ryan Spruill and friend Melissa Ranels, both of Virginia Beach, Va., were running from their stateroom when they saw crew members dousing a shipmate, burned almost beyond recognition.

    ''It was horrible,'' Ranels said.


    In addition to those killed, at least 16 people were injured, three of them critically.

    The most seriously hurt were taken to the Ryder Trauma Center burn unit at Jackson, and others were sent to Mercy Hospital in Coconut Grove. The American Red Cross said it was offering counseling to the injured crew.

    Names of the dead and injured were not available. The cruise line said many of the 911 crew members are from the Philippines.

    Many of the 2,135 passengers felt the blast shake the four-decade-old ship, which then lost power.

    ''It rocked the ship,'' said Bill Kinsey of Knoxville, Tenn., who was on the cruise with his wife. ``We thought a forklift driver on the dock may have hit the ship or something, but then everything went dead on the ship except for the emergency lighting.''

    Passengers described an orderly evacuation of the ship despite snippets of tense conversations accidentally broadcast on the ship's speakers.

    ''They were telling us to report to the lifeboat station, but you could hear people in the background yelling,'' said Alyson Canada, who flew in from Virginia with her boyfriend to celebrate their recent college graduations.

    A 911 call came in three minutes after the explosion, Germain said. A fire-rescue truck based at the port was on the scene a minute later, he said, part of a force that eventually grew to 48 units from Miami-Dade County and the cities of Miami and Miami Beach.

    Four crew members off-loading garbage from the Norway were hurled overboard, Alvarez said, and a Miami-Dade police officer on the shore shimmied down a rope ladder to help rescue them.

    A deck-by-deck search for more victims finished around 8:15 a.m. Passengers were leaving the ship by 9 a.m., and some had cleared customs and left port an hour later.

    As fire-rescue workers searched the ship and set up an emergency triage tent just outside the terminal, Coast Guard divers assessed damage to the ship. Of pressing concern: cracks in the ship's hull that could leak diesel fuel.

    Miami-Dade's hazardous material team ruled out toxic or combustible fuel seepage, said acting Director Antonio Bared, and Coast Guard port Capt. James Watson said there was no sign of damage to the outer hull. Inside the engine room, however, rescue workers said the damage was crushing: doors to the crew and cargo areas buckled, gangplanks warped, solid steel plates were cut in half.

    Ship's boilers superheat water, producing scorching pressurized steam that generates power for almost all ship systems: heat, propulsion, electricity and air conditioners. But the system is notoriously difficult to maintain, and most large military and civilian ship makers have abandoned it in favor of gas- or nuclear-powered engines.

    ''It's not so much risky, as it's tough to maintain under those kinds of pressures,'' said David Jarvis, a retired Navy captain from Virginia who is a Southeast representative for the American Society of Naval Engineers. ``Steam technology is kind of passé.''


    The ship passed an annual in-depth Coast Guard inspection just 10 days earlier during a port visit to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to Luis Diaz, a Coast Guard spokesman, and cruise line Vice President Robert Kritzman said the ship's engine -- including the boiler -- are inspected ``virtually daily.''

    But the Norway, known inside the company as the Big Blue Lady, has a history of mechanical problems that included two boiler-room fires in 1981 and 1982. More recently, in May 2001, a broken sprinkler system forced Norwegian Cruise Line to temporarily deny permission for the Norway to carry passengers to and from U.S. ports.

    Fire officials at the scene said crew members noticed a loud rumbling from the boiler in the seconds before the blast.


    Peter Carlich, a mechanical engineer who builds marine steam engines for an Oregon-based firm, said Coast Guard inspections are usually ''pretty hard-core'' and involve testing the boiler at well above its normal operating limit.

    This pressure test, he said, detects leaks or ''weeps,'' filtrations caused by rust. ''I'm rather surprised, especially if the Coast Guard gave them a good inspection 10 days ago,'' Carlich said.

    While unfamiliar with the details of the Norway explosion, Carlich said boilers are most vulnerable at times when ships are moved for only a short distance. If pressure is allowed to build up but not released, an explosion could occur, he said.

    Miami-based Norwegian Cruise Line canceled the Norway cruise scheduled to leave Sunday evening, offering the passengers refunds, vouchers for a future cruise and some reimbursement for travel to and from the cruise. The company had not decided if or when the Norway, which the company says is the world's longest cruise ship at 1,035 feet, would resume cruises.

    The ship will stay docked until the NTSB completes its investigation of the site.

    At least two agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms -- which has expertise in finding evidence of explosives -- were seen working around the ship, perhaps as a precaution. But officials said there were no signs of terrorism or sabotage.

    ''We have what appears to be a very tragic accident, and that's how we are dealing with it,'' said Alvarez, the Miami-Dade police director.

    Even under the best circumstances, work is grueling in the engine room, where six crew members per shift manage four boilers in temperatures that routinely top 110 degrees, said Eric Leanillo, 29, who said he regularly works on the boiler that exploded. If the explosion had come a few hours later, he would likely have been among the critically wounded rather than sitting on the lawn and waiting for word on his shipmates.

    ''I'm lucky to be alive,'' he said.

    Herald staff writers Dale K. DuPont, Jennifer Maloney, Luisa Yanez and Manny Garcia, and photographer Joshua Prezant contributed to this report.

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  • NJFFSA16
    The AP Wire Copy

    MIAMI (AP) - An explosion and fire in the boiler room of a
    docked cruise ship killed at least three crew members Sunday and
    injured 20 others before the flames were extinguished, authorities
    said. None of the ship's more than 2,100 passengers was injured.
    The explosion occurred on Norwegian Cruise Line's SS Norway, a
    historic ship that has been churning the oceans for the better part
    of four decades. It was once in keen competition with the famed
    Queen Elizabeth 2 on the trans-Atlantic run.
    Coast Guard officials reported four crew members died; however,
    Miami-Dade County officials said only three deaths had been
    confirmed. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancy.
    The explosion appeared to be an accident.
    Fifteen crew members were brought to Jackson Memorial Hospital,
    and eight of them were in critical condition, spokeswoman Victoria
    Zambrano said. Victims were taken to other hospitals, but
    Miami-Dade officials would not say which ones.
    The Norway came into the Port of Miami at the end of a weeklong
    Caribbean cruise around 5 a.m., with 2,135 passengers and 911 crew
    members on board, port director Charles Towsley said. The fire
    began about two hours later, the result of an explosion that was
    likely caused by a steam leak, Miami-Dade Police Director Carlos
    Alvarez said.
    The force of the explosion tossed four crew members through an
    open cargo bay door into water, Alvarez said. They were hauled back
    into the ship with a rope ladder.
    Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers put out the fire in about an
    hour, Coast Guard Petty Officer Anastasia Burns said.
    "So far, it looks like it was just an accident," Burns said.
    Ken Hunt, 81, said he was in his cabin when he heard the
    "I didn't pay any attention at first, I thought we just hit the
    dock. But then the lights went out," he said.
    The evacuation went smoothly, though the passengers weren't told
    what was going on, Hunt said. Once off the ship, the passengers
    squeezed into a customs hall to wait.
    The Norway was scheduled to sail again later Sunday, but that
    cruise was canceled so officials could examine the damage,
    Norwegian Cruise Line spokeswoman Susan Robison said. Passengers on
    that cruise will be given a refund and voucher for another trip.
    Launched as the SS France in the early 1960s, it was the longest
    - if not the largest - passenger ship afloat. At 1,035 feet, it was
    four feet longer than the Queen Elizabeth, and 153 feet longer than
    the tragic Titanic. It's too long and too wide for the Panama
    In 1974, thanks in large part to the oil crisis and the
    blossoming of the Jet Age, the oceanliner was deemed unprofitable,
    taken out of service, and mothballed in France. It was eventually
    bought by Norwegian in 1979 for $18 million - its value in scrap
    metal - and revamped at a cost of $120 million.
    During Memorial Day weekend two years ago, Coast Guard
    inspectors discovered about 100 "soft patches" covering holes in
    fire sprinkler lines that authorities said could have failed under
    intense heat. The ship was held in port for a week to repair the

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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  • Miami Fla--Cruise Ship Explosion Leaves 4 Dead and 16 Injured

    Late yesterday afternoon a Norweigen cruise ship in the port of Miami experienced an explosion and fire. The incident apparently occurred in the Engine Room of the SS Norway as it was docked in the Miami port and was immediately termed as accidental. First reports on the 11 Pm news indicated that the explosion left 4 crew members dead and 16 injured. There were no reported injuries to the passengers.

    Investigators from the NTSB, FBI and other Federal agencies flocked to the scene to begin the investigation.

    The incident left the Tampa Bay area Emergency Services publicly stating that they doubted they were prepared to handle such an emergency. Tampa Fire and Rescue has an aging fleet of fire boats that include a WW II vintage amphibious vehicle and a newer boat that apparently stays out of service for repairs 20% of the time.
    Last edited by distchief60b; 05-26-2003, 05:22 AM.

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