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Welders Dispute Cruise Fire Theory

July 24, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ Welders disputed Carnival Cruise Line’s theory that they sparked the fire aboard the ship Ecstasy, telling federal investigators that they had yet to begin work.

``They said that while they were there to repair a broken bolt on a piece of machinery used to dry and fold bed sheets, they had not yet begun welding when the fire started,″ National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz said in a statement Thursday.

Carnival president Bob Dickinson has said a welder’s spark from the laundry room may have ignited lint in the air-conditioning vents and started Monday’s fire.

NTSB investigators interviewed the two welders who were in the laundry room. The men, whose names were not released, said they had not turned on their electric arc welders.

The bolt and a piece of metal were sent to an NTSB laboratory to determine if there is any evidence of welding.

The Ecstasy was expected to head under its own propulsion to Newport News, Va., today for repairs. NTSB investigators will remain on the ship to continue their probe.

Carnival, which has canceled two Ecstasy cruises, hopes to have the ship back in service by July 31.

The cruise line has said the welding theory was just that _ a theory. ``We are not trying to do their investigating for them,″ Dickinson said.

Although it appeared Ecstasy Capt. Vittorio Sartori continued to sail out to sea after the fire started, Dickinson said Sartori was positioning the ship to return to port.

Sartori, 71, who has more than 50 years experience, denied when asked by the NTSB that he was trying to move into international waters to avoid U.S. jurisdiction.

``His immediate concern was to position the ship in such a manner as to keep the stern section downwind so that smoke would not encroach on the passengers and crew,″ Lopatkiewicz said.

Also at issue is why Sartori didn’t immediately radio the Coast Guard when the fire started. The Coast Guard noticed the fire on video surveillance cameras at the port and then contacted the captain, who initially thought his crew could handle the blaze.

As the flames grew larger, the Coast Guard called Sartori again, and he conceded the ship needed help. It was not clear how much time passed from the Coast Guard’s first spotting of the smoke until Sartori accepted the offer of help.

Miami Coast Guard Cmdr. William Uberti said it was too soon to say the captain delayed reporting the fire. ``I don’t know if he was going to call a minute later,″ Uberti said.

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