The fire aboard Carnival's Ecstasy -- gushing black smoke into the sky off Miami -- proved to be a tedious melodrama for millions of TV viewers.

Thanks to the efforts of the crew and fireboat firefighters, the blaze was confined to the mooring deck in the stern without damaging the ship extensively and without causing loss of life or serious injury.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating whether instructions from the crew were clear enough, whether a spark from a welder's torch, as Carnival says, caused the blaze and whether the crew performed properly in fighting the fire.

The earliest the ship is expected to be back in service is Sept. 11. The damage to the market -- to the dreams of Caribbean vacationers -- and the impact on potential cruisers may take longer to fix. Pending repairs, Carnival now has canceled 15 sailings.

Fires at sea present immense challenges. This one was almost out of reach of the crews' firefighting equipment. It is reassuring that this blaze, fed by nylon rope, eventually would have burned itself out.

Whatever else might be said about this one, it seemed to prove that these newer class ships -- which meet the latest safety-at-sea standards -- are capable of containing fires. That was plain enough for the millions of TV viewers. If further safety lessons are forthcoming, so much the better.

ARC's Supersleuth

ARC has made an astute move in recruiting Gary Yallelus, a detective for 25 years in the Miami-Dade Police Department, now retired, to help combat agency ticket thefts in the Midwest.

Yallelus, who knows more about the big picture of these organized crimes than anyone else and who has been sympathetic to agents, has been retained for 90 days to visit agencies in Illinois and surrounding states to check whether their security is up to snuff.

ARC has posted his photo on its Web site so agents will recognize him. Having issued videos, held seminars and sent out bulletins, ARC is counting on Yallelus personally to help agents recognize breaches in their security that could make them a target.

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