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Safety Inspectors Examine Cruise Ship For Clues in Fire

August 1, 1986

MIAMI (AP) _ Few passengers, if any, have canceled plans to sail on tonight’s cruise of the Emerald Seas despite the adventure that befell the last contingent, officials said.

All 987 passengers on the last Bahamas cruise were evacuated to a tiny island Wednesday after a fire and an explosion aboard the ship.

A total of 17 people - 15 passengers and two crew members - were airlifted to Miami hospitals. They suffered smoke inhalation and cuts and bruises, and all but three have been released.

The 623-foot Emerald Seas, showing some broken portholes and soot stains, steamed into its home port of Miami early Thursday, followed by a U.S. Coast Guard escort.

Federal safety officials scoured the ship for clues to the cause of the explosion and fire and cruise line staff members cleaned up the vessel in preparation for tonight’s scheduled cruise.

Coast Guard Capt. Curt Martin said he saw no reason to prevent the Emerald Seas’ departure if all safety equipment was ready.

Eastern Cruise Lines President Bernard Chabot said the company had received ″very, very few cancellations, if any.″

In buoyant spirits as they disembarked in Miami, the passengers praised the crew, but some said there had been confusion as black smoke began filling the lower decks.

The cruise line reported that 95 percent of the passengers accepted the company’s offer of a free ECL cruise over the offer of a refund of one-half the price of their aborted four-day trip.

Martin and National Transportation Safety Board investigator Leon Z. Katcharian from Washington told reporters Thursday afternoon that initial investigations found no obvious reasons for the fire, which was in a storage locker.

″All indications are it was definitely an accident,″ Martin said. ″There are no indications that things were stored improperly.

″The actions of the crew were, I thought, exemplary,″ he added.

Chabot said the 20 shipboard firefighters extinguished the blaze in 20 minutes, finishing before the Coast Guard rescue vessels arrived.

The explosion that buckled some bulkhead partitions may have been from oxygen and acetylene tanks stored in the area, he said. The locker contained cleaning fluid and paint.

Injured Jamaican crew member Maurice Clarke, 21, was held overnight at Parkway Regional Medical Center for observation. Joyce Singleton, 34, and her mother, Mildred Singleton, 60, both of Riverdale, Ga., stayed overnight in Jackson Memorial Hospital.

All three were expected to be released today, hospital officials said.

″I’m very thankful (the fire) began in an area where there were not more passengers,″ Chabot said.

Martin said the ship’s crew was working around the clock to prepare the Emerald Seas for tonight’s cruise.

Chabot had no financial estimate of the ship damages, but said 26 cabins suffered smoke damage, including four with partially destroyed bulkheads.

The 24,458-ton Emerald Seas, built in 1944 and refurbished last year, sails on three- and four-night cruises from Miami to the Bahamas, where it stops one day on its privately owned Little Stirrup Cay. The ship had left Miami on Monday.

Update hourly