Marine Accident Report

Fire on Board the Panamanian Passenger Ship
Universe Explorer in the Lynn Canal
Near Juneau, Alaska
July 27, 1996

NTSB Number MAR-98/02
NTIS Number PB98-916402
PDF Document (1.03M)

Synopsis: Early on July 27, 1996, while the Panamanian passenger ship Universe Explorer was en route from Juneau, Alaska, to Glacier Bay, Alaska with 1,006 people aboard, a fire started in the main laundry. Dense smoke and heat spread upward to a deck on which crew quarters were located. Five crewmembers died from smoke inhalation, and 55 crewmembers and 1 passenger sustained minor or serious injuries. One passenger re-quired medical treatment as a result of a pre-existing condition. Sixty-nine people were transported to area hospitals, where 13 of the injured were admitted for further treatment. The estimated damage to the vessel was $1.5 million.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was a lack of effective oversight by New Commodore Cruise Lines, Ltd., and the predecessor of V. Ships Marine, Ltd. (International Marine Carriers, Inc.), who allowed physical conditions and operating procedures to exist that compromised the fire safety of the Universe Explorer, ultimately resulting in crewmember deaths and injuries from a fire of undetermined origin in the vessel's main laundry. Contributing to the loss of life and injuries was the lack of sprinkler systems, the lack of automatic local-sounding fire alarms, and the rapid spread of smoke through open doors into the crew berthing area.

The major safety issues discussed in this report are the adequacy of shipboard communications; the adequacy of fire prevention, detection, and control measures; the adequacy of emergency procedures; and the adequacy of oversight.

As a result of its investigation of this accident, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, New Commodore Cruise Lines, Ltd., V. Ships Marine, Ltd., the International Council of Cruise Lines, and the American Bureau of Shipping.