Carnival Splendor In Service Again – Cause of Fire Remains Unexplained

By George Backwell at February 27, 2011 08:18
Filed Under: General

Carnival Cruise Lines Carnival Splendor, returned to service last week following three months of extensive repairs in San Francisco after a crippling engine-room fire left the cruise ship drifting in the Gulf of Mexico until taken in tow to a port of refuge. Fortunately there were no deaths or injuries as a result of the fire, although anxious passengers had to endure some unforeseen hardships (eased by help from aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan) until electrical power was restored.

In response to an earlier and related MaritimePropulsion article  (22, November 2010) a reader wondered what had caused the fire, which seems a question worth addressing now as the giant liner cruises again from her Long Beach base.

Carnival Splendor in San Diego after the November, 2010 Fire: Photo credit – Intersofia

Investigation of the Carnival Splendor Accident

According to a statement (11, November 2010) released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), responsibility to investigate the Carnival Splendor fire rested with Panama (which is the flag of convenience under which the cruise ship operates). However, as the majority of passengers were U.S. citizens, the U.S. Coast Guard (with the assistance of technical experts from NTSB) joined the investigation. No finding regarding the actual cause of the fire has been released by any of these authorities at this point in time.

Origin of the Carnival Splendor Fire

Confirmation of the exact place of the fire's origin came from Carnival Cruises President and CEO Gerry Cahill as he addressed well-wishers on 21, February 2011 shortly before Carnival Splendor sailed from Long Beach: "The actual cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it occurred in diesel generator #5, causing a catastrophic failure. The generator has been removed and is being examined by a team of forensic experts at the shipyard [BAE Systems in San Francisco]."

Knowing where the fire started, it becomes possible at least to surmise a probable cause as one awaits information from those conducting the official enquiry.

Crankcase Explosion in a Medium-Speed Diesel Engine?

The fire in the aft engine-room spread extensively by all accounts, suggesting that a thin spread of oil from #5 diesel, thrown out with explosive force over a wide area, had to be dealt with; an outcome typical of an un-contained crankcase explosion. Statistics from a leading classification society add credibility to the idea.

Carnival Splendor has a diesel-electric propulsion system with medium-speed diesel engines (in separate engine-rooms) as prime movers.  According to an eleven-year analysis of crankcase explosions in its classed fleet from 1990,  Lloyds Register recorded that 85% of a total of 143 such incidents in that period occurred in that type of diesel engine (the small remainder in two-stroke engines). Lloyds Register found the causes were due to bearings (39 per cent), pistons (47 per cent) and others (14 per cent).

It may be that the engine-room fire aboard Carnival Splendor last November was caused by a crankcase explosion through over-heating or mechanical failure of one of the internals mentioned above within #5 diesel engine, but we shall have to wait and see. In the meantime – 'Place your bets!'.



Comments (2) -

I am an independent diesel engine performance engineer of over 35years experience in investigating the cause of engine failure on ships main and auxiliary and power station enfines to 20mWe- If a further incident root cause examination report is required - look no further
ROGER hull C Eng . FIMechE / MIMarEST / FIDGTE - Past president.
0044 1689 824413.

roger hull |     3/1/2011 4:14:50 PM #

un subscribe from this site please

roger hull |     3/7/2011 6:07:18 PM #

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