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Cruise Ship Accident Blamed on Human Error

Princess Cruises says human error is to blame for an incident in which one of its ships tilted suddenly last week

Jul 26, 2006 | Miami Herald

The headline-grabbing tilt that injured 240 people aboard the Crown Princess last week was caused by human error, not a mechanical problem with the ship, Princess Cruises said in a letter to passengers that seeks to ease concerns about a possible repeat.

The letter, signed by President Alan Buckelew, states that U.S. authorities continue to investigate the July 18 incident, and therefore it's too soon to comment in any detail about what went wrong.

''However,'' Buckelew said, ``we can confirm that the incident was due to human error, and the appropriate personnel changes have been made.''

The 3,100-passenger Crown Princess was sailing in calm seas 11 miles off Port Canaveral when it suddenly titled about 15 degrees to one side, then righted itself 30 seconds later.

Up to 240 people sustained injuries such as abrasions, bruises and fractures after being knocked off their feet or hit by flying objects. Of those, 94 were sent to hospitals, and all but one had been released as of Tuesday, Princess said. The cruise line, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., said it expects everyone to fully recover.

Crew members initially told U.S. authorities that there was a problem with the ship's steering equipment. Spokeswoman Julie Benson said Princess posted the letter on its website late Monday to reassure people that the ship is safe.

''We have continued to receive questions from passengers and potential passengers wanting to know that this could not happen again,'' Benson said. ``Clearly, it's been a high-profile event in the media. We wanted to emphatically say, `You will enjoy a safe vacation'.''

The Crown Princess returned Saturday to its home port of New York and quickly embarked on a week-long voyage to the Turks and Caicos Islands. About 15 percent of passengers booked on the voyage ended up canceling, though subsequent voyages remain full, Benson said.

The Coast Guard, which is investigating the tilt along with the National Transportation Safety Board, said it is still weeks or maybe even months away from making a final determination about the cause. Even so, Luis Diaz, a Coast Guard spokesman in Miami, did not dispute the cruise line's claim that human error is to blame.

''It's their vessel, and if they want to go ahead and say that, they have the right,'' Diaz said. He also said investigators traveled aboard the Bermuda-flagged Crown Princess last week during its return to New York and found no problems with the ship.

David Brams, president of World Wide Cruises in Fort Lauderdale, said he's relieved that the ship itself is not to blame. Brams has 20 passengers booked on the Crown Princess for its next scheduled departure Saturday and believes a ''human error'' can be fixed more quickly than a mechanical one.

''They'll put in new procedures to make sure this does not happen again,'' he said.

Benson declined to name the person or people believed responsible for the tilt. She said they have been taken off active duty and are helping with the investigation. The ship's captain remains in command, she said, adding: ``We have the utmost confidence in him.''

California-based Princess, which operates a fleet of 15 ships, cited human error in a similar incident aboard the Grand Princess in February.

The 2,600-passenger Grand Princess made a sharp turn after departing Galveston, Texas, while seeking shore-side medical care for a passenger in cardiac arrest. Nearly 30 passengers sustained minor injuries when the ship tilted, Benson said.

The Crown Princess, which was christened last month in New York by Martha Stewart, is the cruise line's newest ship.

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