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Cruise Lines Scramble To Replace Fire HazardSeptember 15, 2006 By: Dan Butcher Travel Agent
A deadly blaze has exposed the danger of the plastic balcony partitions used on dozens of cruise ships, the Wall Street Journal reports. This past March, a raging fire on the Star Princess took one-and-a-half hours to extinguish, spread to five decks and damaged or destroyed 283 cabins. Richard Liffridge of Locust Grove, GA, on a getaway to celebrate his 72nd birthday, was killed by smoke inhalation, and 13 other people were injured. While a cigarette is believed to be the likeliest cause of the fire, it spread because the partitions used for balconies on the ship were made of plastic that burns easily and produces thick, black smoke. Since that fire, many cruise companies, including Royal Caribbean, Carnival, HAL and Disney, have been scrambling to replace as many as 80,000 plastic balcony dividers, which industry officials now acknowledge pose greater risks than previously thought. Most of the replacement work is expected to be done by next year. The overhauls, likely to cost cruise lines tens of millions of dollars, deepen the woes facing the cruise industry, which is having its most challenging season since 2003, when Iraq war fears and post-9/11 jitters hurt bookings. Recently, the industry has been hit by a series of bizarre incidents—including virus outbreaks, mysterious disappearances and even a pirate attack—that have spooked some passengers.