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Company Says Human Error Caused Ship Tilt

Jul 26, 2006 | Florida Today

Princess Cruises said Tuesday that "human error" caused the Crown Princess to sharply list last week after leaving Port Canaveral, injuring several hundred people. The company also said crew members have been reassigned as a result of the July 18 incident.

The statement from the California-based cruise line comes as the cause of the accident remains under investigation by the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Transportation Safety Board and Bermuda-flag authorities.

"It would therefore be inappropriate for us to comment in any detail before that investigation is complete and the results published," Princess Cruises President Alan Buckelew said in a statement posted on the company's Web site, in the form of a letter to passengers. "However, we can confirm that the incident was due to human error, and the appropriate personnel changes have been made."

Separately, New York-based personal-injury and product-liability law firm Parker & Waichman issued a statement Tuesday, saying it has filed claims against Carnival Corp., which owns Princess Cruises, on behalf of five of the injured passengers who live in New Jersey and Long Island, N.Y.

Coast Guard officials would not comment on Princess' statement, pending the outcome of the investigation.

Princess Cruises spokeswoman Julie Benson said the cruise line will not comment on exactly what happened to cause the accident while the official investigation continues, but said the ship's personnel involved have been reassigned to other duties on the vessel.

Benson said the cruise line has been running its own internal investigation, "side-by-side" with the investigation being conducted by authorities, and issued its statement to assure its passengers that the ship is safe.

"That's all we're prepared to say at this point," she added.

About 3,400 passengers and 1,200 crew members were aboard the ship a week ago, when it tilted offshore, prompting the ship to return to Port Canaveral.

Seven local hospitals treated a total of 116 people injured in the incident, hospital officials said. Princess said about 240 people were treated aboard the ship for various injuries.

Before the accident, the ship on its fourth voyage since being christened June 14 had stopped at Port Canaveral for a port-of-call visit near the end of its nine-day cruise, and was on its way back to New York City.

A representative for the National Transportation Safety Board in Washington, D.C., said Tuesday that a complete investigation on the Crown Princess incident could take as long as 12 to 18 months to complete.

"We look at everything from a safety standpoint, and we don't validate the safety of a cruise ship," said Keith Holloway, public affairs officer for the NTSB, which investigates air, rail and marine accidents. "We try to figure out what happened, and make recommendations on how to prevent it from happening again."

"We got a lot of calls asking about the safety of the ship, but to make that judgment, that's not our call," Holloway said.

In its statement, Princess said: "We want to unequivocally emphasize that we would never operate an unsafe ship, nor would the U.S. Coast Guard allow a ship to sail that had any safety issues."

The company said it "can appreciate there may be concern as to the cause of this incident, and questions about whether it could happen again. We want to assure passengers who may be booked on an upcoming sailing, or those who may be thinking about traveling with Princess, that the highest priority for our company is the safety and well-being of our passengers and crew."

The statement also said the company expresses "our sincerest apologies for this regrettable event, and fully understand that this was a distressing experience for all who were on board. We especially extend our apologies to those passengers and crew who were injured."

Crown Princess left New York Saturday on a seven-day Caribbean voyage, having received clearance to sail by the Coast Guard and the Bermuda flag authorities.

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