Photo of the Caribbean Fantasy starboard-side MES deployed at about a 54-degree angle to the waterline

​Caribbean Fantasy starboard-side MES deployed at about a 54-degree angle to the waterline, about 0923 on the morning of the accident. (Photo by US Coast Guard)​

Fire aboard Roll-on/Roll-off Passenger Vessel Caribbean Fantasy Atlantic Ocean, 2 Miles Northwest of San Juan, Puerto Rico

Investigation Details

What Happened

​About 0725 on August 17, 2016, a fire broke out in the main engine room of the roll-on/roll-off (Ro/Ro) passenger vessel Caribbean Fantasy when fuel spraying from a leaking flange came in contact with a hot surface on the port main propulsion engine. The fire could not be contained, so the master ordered the ship to be abandoned. US Coast Guard and other first responder vessels and aircraft, along with good Samaritan vessels, helped transport all 511 passengers and crew to the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Several injuries, none life-threatening, occurred during firefighting and abandonment efforts. The burning vessel drifted in the wind and grounded on the sandy bottom outside the port. Three days later, the vessel was towed into the harbor, where shore-based firefighters extinguished the last of the fire. The accident resulted in an estimated $20 million in damage to the Caribbean Fantasy, which was eventually scrapped in lieu of repairs.

What We Found

The probable cause of the fire aboard the roll-on/roll-off passenger vessel Caribbean Fantasy was Baja Ferries’ poor safety culture and ineffective implementation of their safety management system on board the vessel, where poor maintenance practices led to an uncontained fuel spray from a blank flange at the end of the port main engine fuel supply line onto the hot exhaust manifold of the engine. Contributing to the rapid spread of the fire were fuel and lube oil quick-closing valves that were intentionally blocked open, fixed firefighting systems that were ineffective, and a structural fire boundary that failed. Contributing to the fire and the prolonged abandonment effort was the failure of the Panama Maritime Authority and the recognized organization, RINA Services, to ensure Baja Ferries’ safety management system was functional.​

What We Recommended

​​To the US Coast Guard:

  • Require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during inspections and examinations, ensuring that the associated systems shut down as designed and intended. (M-18-1)
  • Evaluate the feasibility of creating a passenger vessel safety specialist billet at each sector that has the potential for a search and rescue activity characterized by the need for immediate assistance to a large number of persons in distress, and staff sector-level billets, as appropriate, based on the findings of that evaluation. (M-18-2)

To Baja Ferries S.A. de C.V.:

  • Perform a worst-case scenario risk assessment for all active water-based fire suppression systems on your vessels to evaluate whether the existing freshwater supply is sufficient. (M-18-3)
  • Review your lifesaving appliance training program, including recordkeeping procedures, and revise the program to ensure that crewmembers have proficiency with onboard systems. (M-18-4)
  • Provide formal and recurrent training to shoreside management and senior shipboard officers on the International Safety Management (ISM) Code to ensure that all senior leaders are fully knowledgeable about the policies and procedures in the safety management system. (M-18-5)

To RINA Services S.p.A:

  • Require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during surveys, ensuring that associated systems shut down as designed and intended. (M-18-6)
  • Review the performance of auditors who conducted either International Safety Management Code document of compliance audits at Baja Ferries S.A. de C.V. or safety management certificate audits on the Caribbean Fantasy to ensure that their individual actions met the intent of RINA Service’s rules and guidance. (M-18-7)

To the International Association of Classification Societies:

  • Encourage all member organizations to require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during surveys, ensuring that associated systems shut down as designed and intended. (M-18-8) 

To the Panama Maritime Authority:

  • Review the performance of RINA Services, acting on behalf of the flag-state administration, to determine whether the classification society is meeting International Maritime Organization guidelines. (M-18-9)
  • Review actions taken as the flag state of the Caribbean Fantasy and revise procedures to ensure future actions meet the intent of International Maritime Organization guidelines. (M-18-10)​