Cruise ship fire apparently caused by electrical appliance, officials say

Warning about cooking devices, long banned in crew cabins, issued in report

Posted: Sunday, May 28, 2000

An electrical appliance apparently caused last Tuesday's fire aboard the cruise ship Nieuw Amsterdam, according to investigators.

The type of appliance wasn't specified Saturday by the U.S. Coast Guard. But a press release from the agency listing ``lessons learned'' from the incident includes not allowing cooking devices such as hotplates and hotpots in crew cabins. Such items have long been banned by Holland America Line, which owns the ship that caught fire.

The Coast Guard list also states no wiring modifications such as multi-plugs or cable splitters should be allowed in the cabins because they may overload rated wiring capacities.

Lt. Troy Dixon of the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office said he didn't know if the device responsible for the fire has been identified. He noted non-cooking electrical items such as hair dryers are in many rooms.

``They have TVs, VCRs, any number of things that are in their rooms,'' he said Saturday.

Holland America is cracking down on its cooking appliance ban following the fire on its vessel, said Erik Elvejorde, a company spokesman.

``To make sure all our ships are adhering to this policy, we sent out a fleet-wide alert after the fire,'' Elvejorde said. ``We gave everybody a day to turn everything in, and then, if you are found with any (unauthorized appliance), we release you. It's far too dangerous to fool around with these things,'' he said.

The fire damaged 10 crew cabins while the ship was cruising in Glacier Bay with about 1,200 passengers and 550 crew aboard. Coast Guard investigators, working with the National Transportation Safety Bureau, remain on board the 704-foot, Dutch-flagged vessel, which was found safe to continue traveling.

The team plans to evaluate other aspects of the emergency response on board which, from early reports, went well, according to the Coast Guard's press release. The team will probably leave the vessel today in Sitka, Elvejord said.

Other ``lessons learned'' from the fire, according to the Coast Guard, include not allowing passengers to return to their cabins until it is safe to do so, and that early detection, adherence to established emergency procedures and quick response by trained firefighters minimizes damage.

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