Out of service for over three months
Carnival Splendor Returning to Service
After almost three and a half months of repairs, Carnival Splendor is about to return to service this Sunday - sailing out of Long Beach on seven-day cruises to the Mexican Riviera. I will be attending a news conference onboard the ship this Saturday for a complete update on what was done while the ship was docked in San Diego and in dry dock in San Francisco.
Carnival CEO Gerry Cahill said this event was the worst in Carnival Cruise Lines history. There have been more dangerous incidents at sea on other cruise ships, but never have so many people been so inconvenienced for so many days.
A fire in the engine room crippled nearly the entire shipboard electric system. Modern cruise ships are essentially floating power plants - even driving the propulsion systems. Fortunately, an emergency generator system was able to light the hallways and provide a public address system for ship-wide announcements.
The cruise had departed from Long Beach on Sunday afternoon. The fire occurred on Monday night, November 8, after a full day at sea. The guests were just settling in for a nice "formal night" dinner when they heard an announcement asking them to assemble on the upper decks. The sole reason given was "a small fire" and initially some of the passengers were justifiably scared. The captain and staff needed time to further assess the situation, and while the danger level was not increasing as time went on, the anxiety level certainly increased as the events played out in ways no one expected.
The fire-fighting staff onboard reported to the captain that a stretch of engine room cable appeared to be burning internally. Their attempts to suppress the smoldering failed because they could not reach the source. They had once thought the burning had been stopped once, but it started smoking again.
The captain had to make a crucial decision - to use a special built in engine room fire-suppression system called the C02 Deluge System. It was designed to lock and flood the entire engine room with C02 - to replace the oxygen in the room so no fire could burn.
Eliminating the prospect of a larger fire was certainly the right decision. But as it turns out we now have Coast Guard reports that indicate the deluge system did not work as expected and that in the end the crew had to fight the fire the old-fashioned way - by rooting it out and extinguishing it at the source.
David Beers, editor of our sister site cruisereviews.com, wrote a very informative blog about the Coast Guard Report released shortly after the Splendor fire. He notes the report refers to a ship that had the wrong manual onboard with pictures of a different control panel for the fire suppression system. It was reportedly written in indiscernible English by a supplier that had just been on the ship and had given the system an "all clear" status report not long before this cruise.
In fact, the infamous Carnival cruise director John Heald happened to be aboard Splendor for this cruise and he had alluded in his blog before the fire even started that there were concerns about something in the engine room. Since this report came out every single Carnival ship has had this system thoroughly re-inspected and tested by an independent source.
Splendor was 200 miles south of San Diego when the fire occurred, 55 miles due west of Punta Jacinto on the Baja Peninsula of Mexico. One of the most widely reported problems was the loss of the vacuum-powered toilet system. Fortunately, the electricians onboard were able to start restoring these facilities within hours of the initial loss of power, and most of the toilets onboard were working within 24 hours.
But in fact the most dangerous aspect of the event was the loss of propulsion, which left the ship adrift at sea. In fact, the worst news for passengers was given the morning after the fire - that the ship had drifted almost 60 miles the wrong direction overnight. Tug boats had already been dispatched from Mexico, but it was now going to take almost a full day before they would even reach the ship.
Soon it was decided the safest way to proceed was to tow the ship to San Diego, a U.S. port with the necessary facilities to handles the passengers and the vessel itself. Soon another rescuer arrived, the U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan which off-loaded pallets of food and water with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard.
After three days of slow towing the crippled ship reached San Diego with plenty of media fanfare. All of the passengers were refunded the cost of the cruise, flown or returned home at Carnival's expense and given a free future cruise. The effort of the crew to keep the guests fed, hydrated and happy was outstanding. Meals were served on the open top decks and the only way to get food up there was to form human chains and pass everything hand to hand from the provisions deck to the pool deck, some 12 decks higher.
In the end only a few passengers said they would never cruise again, and some said it proved how well the cruise industry can react to an emergency. One passenger on her first cruise, Barbara Dillon, not only said she would cruise again, she told me the three days she spent on the ship made for one of the most fun vacations she had ever had.
Discuss Carnival Splendor here: Carnival Splendor Returning to Service.
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