Passengers recall cruise ship fire

Posted: Thursday, May 25, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- After the fire alarms sounded on their cruise ship, Carl and Susan Durnell found themselves in a corridor full of smoke. A day later, Mr. Durnell was recovering from chest pains in a local hospital.

When the alarms interrupted the Apopka, Fla., couple's breakfast on Tuesday, they headed to their cabin to get some medicine.

''When we opened the door, you couldn't see across the hall,'' said Mrs. Durnell, 54. ''My husband dropped to the floor and was trying to crawl out. He said 'Go!' I went. I felt I could move faster standing up than down on the floor.''

The 45-minute blaze aboard the 704-foot-long ship Nieuw Amsterdam damaged crew quarters but didn't deter the vessel from finishing its tour of Glacier Bay. After a Coast Guard inspection, it continued its seven-day cruise from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Seward.

After escaping the smoky hallway, the Durnells found each other on the ship's lifeboat deck. A few hours later, Mr. Durnell, 65, was flown to Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau with chest pains. He was in stable condition Wednesday.

Holland America Line, the Seattle-based owner of the ship, doesn't consider Durnell's medical condition to be caused by the fire. The Coast Guard does.

Holland American spokeswoman Julie Chase said 10 crew cabins were damaged by the fire, half as many as the Coast Guard reported damaged. All the remaining 1,199 passengers and 566 crew members were fine, Chase said.

No damage estimate is available yet, Chase said, and the cause of the fire is undetermined. Initially, the company reported it had apparently be caused by an electrical fault.

Lt. Troy Dixon, with the U.S. Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office, said the cabin where the fire started has been identified, but not the source of the blaze.

Galen Brevik, a fire training specialist with the state Division of Fire Prevention, was a member of the Coast Guard's investigation team on Tuesday. He the fire apparently started in a cabin, and scorched the ceiling and a part of two hallways.

A Coast Guard's inspector was interviewing crew and passengers during the ship's trip to Seward, and another investigator will board the ship in Seward, Dixon said.

The Nieuw Amsterdam isn't equipped with sprinklers, and is grandfathered out of a regulation that requires such equipment until 2005, Dixon said.

The safety equipment required under the international regulations -- such as fire doors -- worked Tuesday, Dixon said

On Sunday, Dixon said, the ship passed an annual Coast Guard inspection.

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