Vistafjord Fire, Cunard Line Fire near Freeport, Bahamas

Vistafjord Fire, Cunard Line Fire near Freeport, Bahamas – April 6, 1997,  The NTSB report is as follows:

At 2107 on April 5, 1997, the Bahamian-registered passenger ship Vistafjord departed Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for a 16-day cruise to Valletta, Malta, with 569 passengers and 422 crew members on board. About 0112 on April 6, a fire alarm sounded on the fire control panel in the bridge indicating a fire was in the C-deck laundry storeroom. A heat detector, which had been set at 70oC (158oF), had activated in the storeroom. The laundry and the laundry storeroom had been unoccupied since 2345 on April 5.

The watch officer immediately sounded the general alarm bell throughout the entire ship, alerting passengers and crew; during the next 7 minutes, the alarms were sounded twice more. The master announced over the public address system that a fire had been discovered and ordered that the passengers and crew report to their lifeboat embarkation area. At 0115, the master ordered that all fire doors be remotely closed and the ventilation stopped by the bridge controls to isolate the fire. Fire teams were sent to the area on both sides of the C-deck laundry storeroom. At 0238, the course of the vessel was changed to Freeport, Bahamas. The Vistafjord was about 20 miles southwest of Freeport and 60 miles east of Fort Lauderdale.

The C-deck laundry storeroom is forward of the laundry in the forward section of the vessel. The laundry storeroom is accessed from aft through a watertight door (WTD) on the common bulkhead between the C-deck laundry and the storeroom and from forward by a stairway that leads down from the B- and A-decks. This stairway also leads down to the forward D-deck storeroom below the laundry storeroom. The laundry storeroom and the D-deck storeroom below it were protected by a fixed carbon-dioxide (CO2) system.

At 0232 before the release of CO2 into the storerooms, the master ordered the fire teams to withdraw from the fire area. Nineteen 45-kilogram (99-pound) CO2 bottles were released between 0241 and 0415 from the fixed fire extinguishing system into the laundry storeroom and the D-deck storeroom (7 and 12, respectively). At 0600, fire teams again entered the fire area with fire hoses.

At 0343, the person-in-charge of mustering personnel in that section of the ship reported that one crew member was missing. His room was searched at 0352, but he was not found. After searching other crew rooms in the area, the missing crew member was found at 0638 behind a door in another crewmember’s room. That room was next to the port side WTD on B-deck forward (one deck above the laundry). The crew member was immediately removed from the room, given cardiopulmonary resuscitation by the ship’s doctor and nurse, and subsequently transported by ambulance to a shoreside hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. His fatality resulted from “carbon monoxide poisoning derived from a fire.”

While the ship was en route to the dock in Freeport, shoreside firefighters boarded the vessel underway at 0452 and assisted the crew in fighting the fire. At 0506, the ship was moored in Freeport, and more shoreside firefighters came aboard and assisted in the firefighting operations. The fire was under control and declared extinguished on April 6 at 0700 and 1044, respectively.

Laundry supplies, paper and plastic products, and electrical stores had been stowed behind steel bulkhead partitions or in locked steel mesh cages on the port and starboard sides of the C-deck laundry storeroom. Laundry supplies behind a fireproof sliding door were undamaged. The paper and plastic products on shelves in the caged area were burned and melted. About 30 boxes, each containing 72 cans of Sterno, were stored behind a fireproof locked door, and none of the cans ignited. The heavily smoke-damaged stairway area appeared to have had fire damage from the C-deck up to the A-deck. Smoke damage occurred on the forward B-deck (crew) area above the laundry storeroom.

As a result of its investigation of this accident and another fatal fire on board the Panamanian Passenger Ship UniverseExplorer in July 1996 near Juneau, Alaska, the Safety Board issued urgent safety recommendations in April 1997 to Cunard Lines urging without delay to install smoke alarms that sound locally in the crew and passenger accommodation areas so that the crew and passengers will receive immediate warning of the presence of smoke and will have the maximum available escape time during a fire. As of January 1998, Cunard Lines has not responded to the recommendations.