Smoke On the Water – Part 3

November 12, 2010 -

John Heald

So where were we? Oh yes, I had been awoken from dreaming about the world’s most gorgeous bottom, the Carnival Splendor’s engine room was full of smoke, some electrical cabling was on fire, the crew were at their general emergency stations and I had now asked all 3,299 guests to move to the open decks. The ship is dead in the water. We have no elevators and we are already noticing that many of the ship’s systems are down including the lighting with only the emergency low level lighting working. Apart from that and the fact that I had ruined a really good pair of Marks and Spencers (Brit shop) underpants…….everything was just spiffing.

Just before I continue with part 3 I have to tell you that the timeline that follows is somewhat hazy because as I will be telling you I spent the next 48 hours on the bridge with bugger all sleep so I think it’s best I don’t try and remember what times situations occurred because honestly I can’t.

Having moved the guests to the open decks the next thing for me to do was to talk to the staff and department heads and find out what was happening and that’s when we all realised that because we had no power that the ship’s phone systems were down. Now at this point I should say that the emergency generator was working but that provides limited facilities such as low level lighting and one or two other essentials……but the phones and ship’s internal cell phone system weren’t and so my next announcement was the following.

CREW – PLEASE TALK TO THE GUESTS AND LET THEM KNOW IF THEY NEED ANYTHING TO TELL YOU AND THEN PLEASE PASS THAT INFORMATION TO A SUPERVISOR OR MANAGER. EVERYONE – PLEASE TURN YOUR WALKIE TALKIE TO CHANNEL 7.

I did this because channel 1 which is our normal working channel was a bit busy with stuff like putting out fires. And so as the management put their walkie talkies to channel 7 reports started to come in. Here are some of the facts that were passed to me and which I then acted on and passed to the captain.

1. A thin haze of smoke could now be seen in the guest corridors on decks 1 and 2 aft. Either the smoke was now coming up from the engine room or someone was smoking something naughty. A few minutes later I received reports that a thin haze of smoke could now be seen on decks 1 and 2 mid-ship as well and that pretty much the entire inside of the vessel had been affected by the smell of the smoke which reports on channel 1 were still telling the captain it was thick.

2. Channel 1 then reported that the electrical cabling that had caught fire and had been extinguished had caught fire again. One of the fire squads were quickly dispatched to put it out again.

3. One of the crew reported that a guest was feeling unwell and she needed medical assistance. I called one of the nurses on the radio and she quickly attended to her. It was later reported to me that she was OK and had left the medical center and had suffered from a panic attack as had one of our crew.

And on that note I want to emphasise that these were the only reported injuries that occurred as a direct result of the incident in the engine room. I say this because as you will read in part…….. ummm …..97…..I participated in press briefing in San Diego and a reporter who looked like he was probably called Hank or Bob or asked me if it was true that there had been lots of injuries resulting from this incident. Yes, that’s true in much the same way as it’s true that I would look good in a leather thong and nipple tassels. There were no injuries from the fire.

I won’t bother telling you the announcements I made for the next 30 minutes because basically I never took my finger off the PA microphone. So much so that I honestly have a blister on my right thumb. I do have to say that you would think on a ship that cost $650 million we wouldn’t have gotten the microphone for the PA system from sodding Radio Shack. Anyway, the announcements were repetitive but the sense of calmness that I needed to do my best to give the guests was I felt of massive importance and so regardless of the fact that I had no new news, I continued to talk to them continuously. Then I heard this on the walkie talkie.

“THERE ARE AROUND 150 GUESTS STANDING BY THE LIFEBOATS ON DECK 4.”

Bugger…..I had messed up. I was so mad at myself. I had told the guests to go to the open decks, yet I hadn’t been specific and told them that we did not want them at their muster stations on deck 4. What a total plonker (www.urbandictionary.com) and what a stupid mistake I had made. And so that was me back on the PA system.

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I AM TOLD THAT SOME OF YOU ARE STANDING BY YOUR DESIGNATED LIFEBOATS ON DECK NUMBER 4. PLEASE DON’T WAIT THERE AS THERE IS NO SEATING AND THERE IS NO NEED TO BE BY THE LIFEBOATS. STAFF WILL ASSIST YOU TO DECK 3 AND THE OPEN DECKS THERE WHERE DECK CHAIRS ARE AVAILABLE. I AM SO SORRY THAT I WASN’T MORE SPECIFIC.

Crew then helped those at deck 4 reach the open decks and I continued to be mad at myself.

I mentioned at the start of today’s blog that my recollection of times is unclear but I guess it was an hour before the next major occurrence happened. During that hour we did the following:

1. The food and beverage teams walked around giving bottled water to everyone.

2. It was reported to be 60 degrees outside and people were cold on the open decks. I therefore asked the housekeeping manager to have his team grab as many blankets as possible and deliver them to the open decks where all the guests were gathered. Note to self and to any other cruise director who ever has to go through something similar. If you have to evacuate guests to the open decks please remember to have them bring the blankets or duvets from their cabins. We discovered that we didn’t have enough blankets for all the guests and had to give some the beach towels……..another mistake by yours truly.

3. Special needs teams were now in position all over the ship by stairwells and in corridors and they remained there until we arrived back in San Diego. They were magnificent and not only did they carry people down and up stairs they checked on them in their staterooms continuously and were always there.

Well, the smoke was so thick still in the engine room that the fire squads were having difficulties in reaching its source and the smoke wasn’t just thick there either but also in a place called the marshaling area. This is one of the largest spaces in the crew areas and it’s where stores are kept and where we store luggage and other essentials. Thank goodness it was mostly empty at the time this was all going on, if it had been full of luggage cages and stores it would have made things much more difficult.

So with the smoke needing to be cleared before fire squads could reenter the scene the captain gave the order to open the shell doors on port and starboard sides of the ship to let the smoke blow out naturally. Our extraction systems were working hard but were not enough so the huge doors at the side of the ship where we tie up tenders and fuel barges etc were opened.

Remember the ship is dead in the water but there was no danger of waves spilling into the ship because the sea conditions were calm. But there was a light wind and that certainly helped disapissate (spelt correctly) some of the smoke from the marshaling area which was the same smoke that had crept into guest areas. I told the guests what was happening and that the smoke was retreating.

But that was only a small piece of good news. The bad news was that the smoke was still very thick in the engine room and that the electrical cabling had caught fire again. The captain had conferred with Carnival’s Miami-based command center but ultimately the next choice was his and his alone.

Should he or should he not flood the entire engine room with CO2? This was a huge decision to make as it would mean flooding not just the area on fire but the whole engine room. He would need to make sure that all crew were out of the area because CO2 sucks oxygen from the air making it highly dangerous to people but good for putting out fires.

Captain Cupisti walked to the port side of the bridge……he opened the window and breathed in some fresh air. I stood next to him and put a hand on his shoulder, words were not necessary. A group of officers had gathered behind him. The walkie talkies had gone quiet as everyone waited. Nobody was going to intervene. The captain’s body language said that this was his decision alone to make and after taking one more gulp of air he turned on his heel, picked up the walkie talkie and calmly and with total self belief said, “Clear the engine room, we are going to deploy the CO2.”

Part 4 will be tomorrow. For now I have to go read the 344 e-mails I seem to have and ……… bugger………..I also have lots of Spam.

Goodnight
Your friend
John

Hi, I’m John, and this is my blog. So please don’t mistake my opinions — or those of my dear friends, fans or commenters — for those of Carnival Cruise Line or Carnival Corporation. My apologies in advance for anything I may say that upsets you, but this disclaimer covers Carnival and puts the blame directly on me………….. bugger.

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