Jamaicas crisis management plan, used most recently in the hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, was immediately activated when Jamaican officials first got word of the 3 a.m. fire aboard Princess Cruises Star Princess as its steamed toward Montego Bay from Grand Cayman.

Wyckham MacNeil, minister of state, was alerted at 7 a.m. and he informed Prime Minister P. J. Patterson and Prime Minister-elect Portia Simpson-Miller of the situation.

Our crisis plan involved quickly galvanizing the support of dozens of agencies on the national and local levels, said David Shields, deputy marketing director of the Jamaica Tourist Board in Kingston, Jamaica. Shields coordinated many of these efforts throughout the daylong effort.

The agencies involved included the islands Office of Defense, the Ministry of National Security, the Port Authority of Jamaica, the fire services, the Jamaican Defense Forces, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Tourism, the Jamaica Tourist Board, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association and the Tour Product Development Co.

Representatives of these agencies, along with helicopters, ambulances and a full medical services team, gathered at the pier in Montego Bay to await the ships arrival.

We were not sure if the helicopters would be needed to transport injured passengers, but we had them on standby just in case, Shields said.

Agency representatives at the pier met with officials from Lanneman & Morris, the local shipping agent for the Star Princess.

We were informed that the most immediate need was for medical attention and personnel to transport the 11 injured passengers to Cornwall Regional Hospital in Montego Bay, Shields said.

Several of the injured were airlifted to the hospital by helicopter. MacNeil, who was at the pier, reported that most of the injuries were from smoke inhalation.

There was speculation that the fire began with a cigarette but that has not been confirmed, he said.

Princess announced that the cruise would terminate in Montego Bay, that 100 cabins were damaged and that more than 300 passengers had to evacuate the ship and would be flown to Fort Lauderdale within two days.

Jamaica is running at close to 100% hotel occupancy right now, Shields said, but the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, along with the JTB, were on this situation from the start and were able to accommodate all the passengers in hotels. We used properties from Negril to Ocho Rios in addition to Montego Bay.

Meanwhile, Shields and his staff in Kingston made contact with embassies and consulates in Canada and the U.S. because many passengers had lost their passports.

At a press briefing held at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay on March 23, MacNeil outlined the steps that already had been taken by the numerous agencies involved and stressed that Jamaica will continue to offer all support on every level. This has been an effort on every level, including the local community in Montego Bay who also turned out to offer assistance.

He specifically cited the assistance rendered by the Port Authority of Jamaica.

Our basic crisis management plan can be adapted for all emergencies. We are all partners here, MacNeil said.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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For more details on this article, see Fire on Star Princess leaves one passenger dead, 11 injured.

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