Sea Fire at Port Canaveral, Ineffectual Fire Fighting Dooms Ship
Ineffectual Fire Fighting Dooms Ship
The cruise ship Scandinavian Sea was cruising seven miles off Port Canaveral, Florida on March 9, 1984 around 1920 hours when fire broke out. The cause of the fire was ruled as he intentional or accidental ignition of combustible materials, carpet and trash can in cabin #414, a cabin occupied by two crew members.
As soon as the fire was discovered, the vessel returned to Port Canaveral. The passengers debarked upon arrival and shoreside firefighters from various local and federal agencies started firefighting operations.
Despite the combined efforts of the firefighters, the fire spread out of control until it was successfully extinguished during the afternoon of March 11, 1984. No lives were lost nor were any serious injuries sustained by passengers, crew, or shoreside firefighters. The M/V Scandinavian Sea was subsequently declared a total constructive loss, valued at $16 million.
Contributing to the spread of the fire was failure of firefighting personnel to effectively manage the fire. A plumber and bar waiter attempted to put the fire out with a portable fire extinguisher, wasting time, when a fire fighting hose with water hook-up was available nearby.
The vessel, which was on a daily 11-hour cruise out of Port Canaveral, Florida, with 744 passengers and 202 crew members aboard, had been anchored about 7 miles off the coast of Florida, near Cape Canaveral and had just gotten underway.
It proceeded to its berth at the Port Canaveral Cruise Terminal while the vessel’s firefighting team proceeded to fight the fire. After the vessel berthed at 2057, the passengers were disembarked, and Coast Guard and local firefighters boarded the vessel to fight the fire.
Meanwhile the fire, although it was contained within the forward vertical fire zone, spread through the upper decks. The fire was extinguished on March 11, 1984.
When the fire first was reported to the master and the chief officer, who were on the bridge of the SCANDINAVIAN SEA, their immediate response was executed in accordance with the vessel‘s emergency plan.
The master first looked (and properly so) to the passenger’s safety. The vessel’s proximity to the terminal at Port Canaveral facilitated the successful evacuation of the passengers. The absence of any personal injuries or fatalities among the passengers and crew was largely due to the master’s decision to proceed to port immediately.
While the officers of the SCANDINAVIAN SEA were trained in shipboard firefighting, they found it difficult to put this knowledge to use in conjunction with the activity of the local firefighters. The master, who had remained on the bridge, should have recognized through reports from his officers that the shoreside firemen were not familiar with the techniques of shipboard firefighting and, at that time, should have reasserted control of the firefighting activities utilizing his officers to direct the operation. While the Cape Canaveral fire chief was charged with the responsibility of providing fire protection in the port, the master nevertheless continued to be responsible for the safety of his vessel and could not abdicate this role in the face of activity by shoreside firefighters that clearly was increasing the hazard to his vessel.
SCANDINAVIAN SEA should have exercised more authority over the actions of the local volunteer firemen when it was evident they were not trained in shipboard firefighting techniques and, in fact, were hazarding the vessel. When the commanding officer and the engineering officer of the DILIGENCE boarded the vessel, the lack of coordination became apparent to them. After their brief tour of the vessel and after they conferred with the master about the progress of the firefighting efforts, it became apparent to the engineering officer of the DILIGENCE that the method of firefighting employed by the shoreside firefighters was not correct. Although the USCG attempted to adhere to its policy of only providing assistance and technical expertise to the local fire departments, the lack of coordination by the local fire departments during the initial phase of their firefighting efforts and the inaction of the master justified the action of the USCG in assuming control.
There is evidence that when the fire reflashed about 2300, there was little if any firefighting activity, either by the ship's crew or shoreside personnel. Testimony from the vessel's crew and the shoreside firemen indicated that prior to the reflash, it was possible to walk through the "A" deck area without the aid of breathing apparatus. If the firefighting teams, either ship's crew or shoreside, had taken advantage of the situation at that particular time and thoroughly drenched the area with water, the reflash of the fire may have been prevented.
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