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Injury total on tilted cruise ship up sharply

Up to 240 people sustained injuries when a cruise ship tilted sharply to one side shortly after leaving Port Canaveral for New York

Jul 20, 2006 | Miami Herald The number of people reported to have been injured in an accident aboard the Crown Princess more than doubled Wednesday, underscoring the severity of what could be described as the latest in a series of mishaps for the cruise-ship industry.

Federal investigators said they intend to find out why the Crown Princess tilted so sharply Tuesday afternoon as it sailed in calm seas about 11 miles off the Florida coast near Port Canaveral.

The Bermuda-registered ship was on automatic pilot when it leaned 15 degrees to its left side, then righted itself 30 seconds later, the U.S. Coast Guard said. Sunbathers were thrown from their loungers. TVs flew off shelves. And the pool became a ''mini-tsunami,'' emptying people onto the pavement.

Crew members told the Coast Guard there was a problem with the ship's steering equipment, spokesman James Judge said. So far, crew members have turned up negative results for drug and alcohol tests, he said.

Princess Cruises, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp., said 240 people sustained injuries such as abrasions, bruises and fractures. Of those, 94 were taken to hospitals near Port Canaveral for treatment and evaluation. All but five have been released, and even they were expected to fully recover, the cruise line said.

''We're lucky that most of the passengers are fine, and the ship looks like it will be fine, too,'' spokeswoman Julie Benson said.

The Crown Princess, which began sailing only a month ago, was to have left Brooklyn today for a nine-day tour of the Caribbean. Instead, the ship is expected to depart Saturday for a seven-day cruise. It remains in Port Canaveral, where it is awaiting approval from the Coast Guard to set sail for Brooklyn.

Princess said it will give passengers who go ahead with the shortened cruise a 50 percent refund. Those who decide against taking the cruise will get their money back.

The Crown Princess was carrying about 3,100 passengers and 1,200 crew members when it departed Port Canaveral after visiting Grand Turk, Ocho Rios and Grand Cayman. Initial reports put the number injured at slightly less than 100.

The cruise line said ''considerable superficial'' damage was done to the interior of the ship, and it expects repairs quickly.

Investigators said they first heard about the accident from the mother of a passenger who called from a cellphone Tuesday at 3:50 p.m., about 10 minutes after it occurred. Investigators then got ahold of the ship's crew about 10 minutes later and received confirmation, Judge said. He added that investigators were satisfied that the ship's crew did their best to inform them.

''Yes, it's the cruise ship's responsibility to notify us when something like this happens. However, its first responsibility is the safety of passengers on board,'' Judge said. ``All things considered, it was very reasonable.''


Tuesday's accident was not the first of its kind for California-based Princess, which operates a fleet of 15 ships. In February, the Grand Princess had just departed Galveston, Texas, when a passenger suffered a heart attack and required medical care on shore. The ship made a sharp turn back toward Galveston and listed to one side, causing minor injuries to 27 passengers, Benson said. Princess blamed the captain, who now oversees the San Francisco-based Regal Princess.

Autopilot failure caused a sudden turn and list that injured more than 70 people aboard the Norwegian Sky in 2001. The Sky had been returning to Seattle from an Alaska cruise when a computer error apparently caused the malfunction, according to news accounts. The Coast Guard cleared the ship to continue operating but ordered that its autopilot not be used.

Tuesday's accident also follows a series of mishaps on cruise ships, including a fatal fire aboard the Star Princess in March, a pirate attack against the Seabourn Spirit near Somalia in November, and the mysterious death of Connecticut honeymooner George Smith while on a Royal Caribbean cruise a year ago.


David Brams, president of World Wide Cruises in Fort Lauderdale, said the latest incident with the Crown Princess might cause some travelers to think twice about taking a cruise. But he said he has 20 customers booked on the ship's July 29 sailing, and no one has yet canceled.

''I don't think it will have a lasting impact,'' Brams said.

Stewart Chiron, president of Miami-based Joystar Cruises, said the incident prompted several calls to his office, but he's not worried about a repeat. ''I wouldn't think twice about sailing on this ship tomorrow,'' he said.

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