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Feds To Question Cruise Passengers

July 23, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ Federal investigators plan to survey about 250 passengers from the cruise ship Ecstasy as they piece together what happened when a fire forced the vessel back to port shortly after it began a four-day cruise.

Officials with the National Transportation Safety Board want to know how the crew handled the blaze that scorched the rear of the Carnival Cruise Line ship.

According to one passenger, a communication breakdown between crew members sent poorly informed passengers scrambling from one area of the ship to the next.

``It became clear at that point that many of the crew were as `in the dark’ as we about the extent of the fire,″ said Delos Johnson, a Web site designer who has chronicled his Ecstasy adventure on his online site.

Still, Johnson wrote that both passenger and crew ``remained calm and acted professionally and rationally throughout.″

Capt. Vittorio Sartori didn’t immediately call the Coast Guard when the fire started. The Coast Guard noticed the fire on video surveillance monitors of the port and surrounding waters, and then contacted the captain.

Miami Coast Guard Cmdr. William Uberti said the captain agreed immediately to take the smoking ocean liner to an anchorage two miles offshore. He said it was too early to say the captain delayed reporting the fire.

``It’s unfair at this time to say the captain would be subject to civil sanctions,″ Uberti said. ``That’s not proven yet.″

Carnival President Bob Dickinson defended Sartori’s actions and the company disputed the account of at least one passenger who said that an hour and 20 minutes passed between when she first noticed the smoke and heard the first fire alarm.

Investigators are leaning away from the theory that a welder’s spark from a laundry room touched off the blaze.

``There has been no sign of fire in the ship laundry area,″ said Jim Scheffer of the NTSB. ``The major portion of the fire was confined to the aft deck docking or mooring area.″

Of the nearly 3,500 people on board for the four-night trip from Miami to Cozumel, Mexico, 54 were treated for minor injuries, most for smoke inhalation.

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