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Passengers returning to US after fire ends Royal Caribbean cruise

Cruise Ship Fire_Angu.jpg

May 27, 2013: This photo provided by Royal Caribbean shows the fire-damaged exterior of Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas cruise ship, in Freeport, Bahamas. Royal Caribbean says the fire occurred on the mooring area of Deck 3 about 2:15 a.m., and was quickly extinguished, as the ship was en route to the Bahamas.AP

For the second time this year, a fire at sea has halted a cruise ship's voyage. This time, a blaze broke out aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas, and the ship's 2,200 passengers were expected back in Baltimore on Tuesday afternoon after being flown on charter flights from the Bahamas.

The fire began at 2:50 a.m. Monday and was extinguished about two hours later, with no injuries reported. A cause was not immediately known, and Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez said Tuesday in an e-mail that she had no updates on what happened or where repairs might take place, though a May 31 sailing had been canceled.

Photos show a substantial area of the stern burned on several decks of the ship the length of about three football fields. The U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board planned to investigate.

Martinez said President and CEO Adam Goldstein -- who met with passengers Monday in the Bahamas -- would not give interviews Tuesday. "We're just going to focus on getting all of our guests back to Baltimore," she wrote in an e-mail.

The ship, which left Baltimore on Friday for a seven-night cruise, was headed originally to CocoCay, Bahamas. Royal Caribbean said the ship never lost power and was able to sail into port in Freeport, Bahamas, on Monday afternoon. The ship launched in 1996 and was refurbished last year.

Royal Caribbean said on its website and through social media that executives met with passengers in port. The company also said passengers will get a full refund of their fare and a certificate for a future cruise.

Aboard the ship, the captain announced that passengers needed to go to their muster stations, passenger Mark J. Ormesher told The Associated Press in an email. Immediately after, his room attendant knocked on the door and told him and his girlfriend to grab their flotation devices. The attendant said it wasn't a drill.

Ormesher, a native of England, who lives in Manassas, Va., said he and his girlfriend smelled acrid smoke as they went to their muster station, the ship's casino. The crew quickly provided instruction.

"This encouraged calm amongst the passengers," he said. Passengers were required to remain at their stations for four hours, he said, and the captain "provided us as much information as we needed to stay safe."

Ormesher, who is 25 and on his first cruise, said the air conditioner had been shut off, and as the hours passed and the ship got hot, bottled water was distributed. The crew and passengers remained calm, and helped those who needed it. Crying babies were given formula and held while their parents used the bathrooms.

After passengers were allowed to leave their stations, Ormesher said he saw water on the outside deck 5 and in the hallways. The mooring lines were destroyed he said; crew members brought new lines from storage.

The damage at the rear of the ship looked bad, Ormesher said; burned out equipment was visible.

Royal Caribbean said all guests and 796 crew were safe and accounted for. Martinez said in an email that the company was arranging 11 charter flights.

The company in a statement on its website said it is "deeply sorry for this unexpected development in our guests' vacation. We understand that this may have been a very stressful time for them. We appreciate their patience and cooperation in dealing with this unfortunate situation."

Carnival Corp. also had trouble with fire aboard ship earlier this year.

The Triumph was disabled during a February cruise by an engine room fire in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving thousands of passengers to endure cold food, unsanitary conditions and power outages while the ship was towed to Mobile, Ala. It remained there for repairs until early May when it headed back to sea under its own power.

Fran Golden, a blogger for the cruise magazine Porthole, said the two incidents are different.

"I think it's easier to make people happy when they're not stuck on a ship for four days without toilets," she said.

Still, she applauded Royal Caribbean's public relations efforts after the fire. She said sending CEO Goldstein to meet with passengers was a "brilliant move." The company also Tweeted a picture of one meeting.

"It shows that you're a responsible company. It shows that you care. It's not just, `oh well, this incident happened,"' she said. She noted that the head of Royal Caribbean's Azamara Club Cruises line, Larry Pimentel, also met with passengers in early 2012 after a fire aboard the Azamara Quest disabled one of its engines during a cruise in Asia.

Mike Driscoll, editor of the Illinois-based publication Cruise Week, said Royal Caribbean had the benefit of hindsight and could use lessons from the recent Triumph fire in its response. He said company took charge of the response on social media, sending out photos and updates. He likened it to the company saying, "Hey, we're not hiding anything."

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