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Fire, death of crew members aboard two cruise ships that departed from Florida

Miami Herald
The Carnival Freedom cruise ship caught fire over the weekend while passengers were aboard. As a result two cruises were canceled as the ship will require extensive repairs.

The ship, operated by Doral-based Carnival Cruise Line, set sail on Monday afternoon from Port Canaveral to its shipyard in Freeport where it is expected to be evaluated and fixed.

On Saturday afternoon, the Carnival Freedom caught fire on the port side of the exhaust funnel, a kind of chimney meant to release smoke and emissions. Black smoke and flames were visible in a video provided to NBC6, which first reported the incident.

The vessel was 20 miles off Eleuthera Island, Bahamas, and heading to Freeport following a canceled port stop at Princess Cay due to bad weather, the company said. It commenced its trip two days earlier on March 21, departing from Port Canaveral.

Passengers safe on Carnival Freedom

“No guests were hurt, and the ship remained fully operational,” said Matt Lupoli, a spokesman for Carnival Cruise Line. But he said two members of the carrier’s fire response team were treated for minor smoke inhalation.

Carnival’s onboard team put out the fire on Saturday, and on Sunday, it completed what it said was a thorough assessment of the ship during a visit to Freeport. That is when the crew realized that “the damage is more than we first thought and will require an immediate repair to stabilize the funnel,” said Lupoli. After the funnel was stabilized, the ship returned Monday morning to Port Canaveral and let guests off. It has a capacity for nearly 3,000 guests but the company did not specify how many were on the current trip.

Carnival subsequently canceled cruises on Carnival Freedom leaving Port Canaveral on March 25 and on March 29.

Carnival said it also continues to investigate multiple eyewitness reports of a lightning strike.

Carnival said that, “We sincerely regret the impact to our embarking guests,” and that it would provide all guests on canceled cruises a full refund and a 100% future cruise credit.

Meanwhile, that was not the only mishap in the Caribbean.

Two crew deaths

On Friday, the Nieuw Amsterdam operated by Holland America experienced what it says was an accidental steam release in an engineering space on board while at Half Moon Cay, The Bahamas. Two crew members died as a result. They have not yet been identified. There were no passenger injuries, the company said.

The Bahamas Maritime Authority and the Dutch Safety Board are conducting an investigation, the carrier said.

Holland also said that all systems on board the ship “have since been reviewed and determined to be fully operable by independent surveyors of the Dutch government and confirmed by the US Coast Guard.”

“All of us at Holland America Line are deeply saddened by this event,” the company statement said.

There are not precise figures on number of crew deaths per year because the industry does not typically disclose them. A research paper from 2020 in the International Journal of Travel Medicine and Global Health noted that 10 crew members died in 2019, a high at the time for one year.

Nieuw Amsterdam returned to Port Everglades on March 23. Then it quickly left on its next tour that same evening, the company said. Its next scheduled port stop is at Ocho Rios, Jamaica on March 26.

The ship, which has a capacity of around 2100 guests, is based at Port Everglades in the winter and in the summer between Vancouver and Whittier, Alaska.

The incidents come as the cruise industry is breaking records for number of passengers.

PortMiami, Florida’s largest port, served 7.3 million passengers during the 12-month fiscal year 2023. That was tops for cruise ports worldwide, nearly twice the four million passengers seen the prior year and more than its previous record of 6.8 million passengers set in 2019.

Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale and Port Canaveral are also booming. The latter was the world’s top cruise port one year before PortMiami took the honors.

It does not seem much is slowing it down.

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