It was about 2:50 a.m. EDT Monday when a fire broke out aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship as it sailed through the Bahamas, awakening 2,224 sleepy guests and 796 crew and sending them to their muster stations. The blaze ripped through the third deck of the aft mooring area for more than two hours and spread to the fourth deck crew lounge, but Royal Caribbean confirmed all guests and crew were fully accounted for. Medical staff did, however, respond to several non-emergency calls for assistance from passengers treated for fainting, high blood pressure and an ankle sprain.
Grandeur of the Seas was meant to stop at Royal Caribbean’s private island, Coco Cay, for Memorial Day, but diverted to Freeport for evaluation at about 10:15 a.m. after sailing through calm waters with power all morning following the fire. The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed that the ship put out the flames using equipment onboard, though two of its craft responded to the scene along with the cruise ship Carnival Sensation to stand by and assist if needed.
“The Cutter Cormorant and the Cutter Yered safely escorted the Grandeur of the Seas to Freeport, Bahamas, where it is currently moored for further evaluation,” the Coast Guard said Monday afternoon. “The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are joining the flag state [the Bahamas] to begin conducting a joint investigation of the vessel to determine the cause of the fire.”
The Coast Guard categorized the blaze as “Class A,” meaning it broke out in solid combustible materials like wood or plastic and didn't involve fuel or other flammable liquids.
Royal Caribbean launched the 74,000-ton Grandeur of the Seas in 1996 and gave it a $48 million refurbishment just last year. The ship was on a seven-night sailing out of its base in Baltimore that departed May 24 and included port calls to Port Canaveral, Fla., Coco Cay and Nassau, Bahamas. Royal Caribbean announced Monday afternoon, however, that the current journey would be cut short.
“We have assessed the damage to Grandeur of the Seas and have made the decision to cancel the remainder of this voyage,” a spokesperson said. “We are currently arranging flights for all guests onboard to return to Baltimore tomorrow.”
Guests on the sailing will receive a full refund of the cruise fare as well as a future cruise certificate. The spokesperson said information about upcoming sailings onboard the Grandeur of the Seas would be announced “as soon as it is available.”
Royal Caribbean is the world’s second largest cruise operator behind Carnival Corp., though it has seen far fewer recent incidents than its rival. An engine room fire on Carnival Triumph in February left the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for five days without power and essential services such as running water and air conditioning. The Carnival Dream cruise ship also lost power in March. These events and others dealt a blow to American’s trust in cruise lines.
A Harris poll released in March found a 17 percent point drop in a measurement of America’s trust in Carnival Cruise Lines following the incident on Carnival Triumph. Measurements of trust in rival lines, including Royal Caribbean, also dropped (though to a lesser degree). Critics of the cruise industry, meanwhile, demanded more passenger protections for cruisers sailing the high seas.
Last Friday, Cruise Lines International Association answered their call with a new Passenger Bill of Rights. Included in the new “bill” is the right to disembark a docked ship if essential provisions can't adequately be provided onboard; the right to a full refund for a trip that is canceled due to mechanical failures (or a partial refund for a voyage that is terminated early due to mechanical failures); the right to timely information updates as to any adjustments in the itinerary; the right to a ship crew that is properly trained for medical emergencies and evacuation procedures; and the right to transportation and lodging if a cruise is terminated early due to mechanical failures. All North American member cruise lines, including Carnival and Royal Caribbean, adopted the new measures last week, and each is required to publish the Bill of Rights on their respective websites.