|By Paul Motter
Carnival had a coming out party for the newly repaired Carnival Splendor in Long Beach last weekend. We learned more about what happened, but also discovered there is still a lot we don't know.
Carnival president Gerry Cahill suggested that the damage in the engine room was more extensive than most of us realized. Carnival had to replace an entire Wartsilla engine, weighing over 200,000 pounds and two alternators each weighing over 100,000 pounds.
It comes as a surprise that an entire engine needed to be replaced. We were initially told that the fire was limited to a cable assembly in the engine room, but what we heard suggests the problem was far more complicated - a mechanical defect deep inside an engine.
Nevertheless, electricity is an profoundly powerful force, and a manufacturing defect can lead to devastating results. In the long run, I think that when you consider the entire incident could have gone wrong in so many ways, it is safe to say that we are lucky no one was hurt in the event at all. The only reported health issues were two panic attacks.
I had a chance for a fresh interview with cruise director John Heald last weekend, the well-known lead Carnival cruise director who just happened to be onboard Splendor when the fire occurred. John reveals some profoundly provocative personal thoughts about the event and what fortunately did NOT happen - mostly that his biggest worry was the fear of the unknown.
"The scary thing was this - I realized that in all my years of working on cruise ships I really had no training for this situation - because you can't train for it. Yes, we have regular boat drills, but I have never had to take passengers this far along on a fire drill before, and for almost a day I honestly did not know where it was going to lead. In the beginning, yes I was feeling true fear - because I realized I was in charge of potentially the lives of thousands of people - and I mostly wanted not to do anything wrong."
The ship was dead in the water. Possible options included loading everyone into lifeboats and motoring to the near coast of Mexico. There was also the possibility of having another Carnival ship in the area, Carnival Spirit, for example, come to the Splendor and take on the passengers. Either choice would have made John responsible for coordinating a very complex evacuation procedure. From the moment the captain said to assemble passengers on the top decks John was already thinking about the best way to deal with this situation without putting people in danger - a daunting responsibility.
When it was decided to keep the guests onboard Carnival Splendor while it was towed back to San Diego, John then had to find a way to keep people calm and cooperative for three and a half days of inconvenient living in dark rooms with cold food and cold showers.
In the end it turned out that Carnival definitely made the right decisions. Everyone was returned to San Diego safely. That is largely due to the personal and professional skills of John Heald - the man who kept everyone calm under the most trying conditions.
You can read the entire John Heald Interview here - it is a very worthwhile read.
You can comment on the John Heald interview in our forum: New John Heald Interview