WASHINGTON -- A National Transportation Safety Board official
criticized major cruise suppliers July 11 for not immediately
implementing recommendations it made on smoke-detector systems in a
report NTSB issued in 1997.
Officials of the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL),
representing 17 major cruise operators, said the recommendations,
as written, "could result in adverse operational and technical
consequences that could conflict with safety systems and
procedures" on cruise ships.
"The No. 1 concern that [the NTSB] has with regard to cruise
ship safety is fire," said Jim Hall, NTSB's chairman, at Tuesday's
meeting. Hall said cruise companies "really have failed to deal in
good faith" regarding cruise-ship fires.
Hall referred to an April, 1997 NTSB report that recommended
foreign-flag ships should install automatic smoke alarms that sound
locally in crew and passenger accommodation areas on cruise
The NTSB report contends that locally sounding alarms will allow
crews and passengers to receive immediate warning of the presence
of smoke and will have the maximum available time to escape in the
event of fire.
In a statement released following the meeting, ICCL said that
while "the safety of passengers and crew onboard ICCL vessels is of
paramount importance," the smoke detectors currently installed in
passenger and crew cabins and public areas aboard foreign-flag
ships are designed to sound in control rooms and the ship's bridge,
from where fire-supression and emergency procedures are directed,
which ICCL says is the safest option available.
"These systems and procedures, already in place, are intended to
allow the ship's crew to properly direct passenger response to an
emergency situation and pass critical information to the crew and
passengers," said ICCL.
"There are technical and operational drawbacks to literally
complying with NTSB's recommendations," said Michael Crye, an ICCL
spokesman contacted by Travel Weekly on July 12. Crye said ICCL's
technical committee currently is working with organizations
including the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the
U.S. Coast Guard, in addition to cruise industry safety and
technical experts, "To seek the best solution to maximize safety
and minimize unwanted ramifications and unnecessary panic and
disruption." Several ships have been fitted with test systems for
evaluation, according to ICCL.
ICCL says individually sounding smoke detectors on cruise ships
have the potential to create dangerous situations. "Because of
smoke detector sensitivity, passenger ships with literally
thousands of smoke detectors experience false alarms," said the
"If passengers and crew were alerted to each false alarm, they
would quickly become accustomed to the sounding of the alarm and
may not respond properly in the event of an actual emergency."
Crye described a scenario in which a smoke detector went off in
a passenger's cabin because the occupant was smoking. "The person
in the cabin will ignore it because he knows the alarm went off
because he was smoking," said Crye.
"But what do the people in the next cabin think? Do they respond
by running down the hall, not knowing whether there's a fire or
Moreover, the IMO, which Crye said has jurisdiction with regard
to changes to international Safety of Life at Sea (Solas)
requirements, has "previously recognized that requiring passengers
to be familiar with and respond to an alarm or alarms other than
the general alarm is inappropriate. There should be one alarm only
for alerting all passengers and crew to an emergency."
The ICCL statement says several maritime safety experts at IMO
"did not support the U.S. Coast Guard in their effort to amend
Solas safety requirements to include the NTSB recommendation."
Yet while ICCL did submit a paper to the IMO pointing out
drawbacks to the safety board's proposal as supported by the Coast
Guard, "ICCL did not, as stated by the NTSB, oppose discussion of
this important subject by the international community of maritime
"We are pledged with everyone concerned that the most safe thing
for the benefit of all our passengers is being done now," said
Crye. "The appropriate venue to determine [if another system can
work] is the IMO, and we will continue to seek the right