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CRUISE SHIP FIRE Passengers recall fear, praise crew


Published: Sat, March 25, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The company said it would refund the cost for all 2,600 passengers.
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica (AP) -- Some of the passengers were stirred from sleep by the smell of smoke. Others were jolted awake by a fire alarm, then startled to see sparks drifting past the ship's windows in the Caribbean moonlight.
Some passengers, like Beth Bostrom, feared the worst as they saw flames on board the Star Princess as the ship made its way from the Cayman Islands to Jamaica.
"I looked to my left and saw this huge fire raging," Bostrom said. "I looked back into the room and screamed, 'Oh my God, there's a fire! The boat is on fire!'"
Smoky celebration
Bostrom, a Nashville, Tenn., resident who was celebrating her 15th wedding anniversary with a weeklong vacation at sea, was among hundreds of passengers making their way home Friday and today after the fire that damaged about 150 cabins on the gleaming white cruise ship.
Her husband, Marty, said smoke was billowing up the stairwell and over the top deck by the time they left their cabin in the pre-dawn hours Thursday.
"There was a point in time when I wasn't sure we were going to make it out of there," he said.
A big charred spot on the Star Princess was the only evidence from afar of the fire as it was moored in Montego Bay, on Jamaica's northwest coast.
One passenger, Richard Liffridge, 72, of Locust Grove, Ga., died from what Princess Cruises said was cardiac arrest. Eleven people were injured, including two who remained hospitalized with injuries from smoke inhalation.
Many passengers awaiting flights home from Montego Bay praised crewmembers' response to the fire. The company said it would refund the cost of the vacations for all 2,600 passengers and offered a 25 percent discount on their next cruise.
"If we did go on a cruise, we'd go on Princess," Beth Bostrom said. "We were impressed with them."
Safe feeling
Richard Cox, a passenger who awoke to the smell of smoke, said the crew made passengers feel safe.
"You could see the lifeboats, they were getting them ready to go. That's when I knew there was something really important," said Cox, of Mason, Ohio. "When I saw that I went 'Oh boy, we're really going to go off the ship."'
But the passengers did not abandon ship. Instead, they waited in designated safety zones for several hours, as they are instructed in the emergency drills that are required for all passengers at the start of a voyage. The ship then made its way to Montego Bay and canceled its final stop on a private island in the Bahamas.
A smoldering cigarette is suspected as the cause of the fire, but Princess Cruises spokeswoman Julie Benson said authorities were still investigating.
Ran aground
Elsewhere, a cruise ship with more than 250 people on board ran aground Friday on the Columbia River east of Portland, Ore. Officials said no injuries were reported, the vessel wasn't sinking and was not leaking fuel.
The 360-foot Empress of the North -- a vessel modeled on the sternwheelers of the 1800s -- ran aground between Portland and Washougal, Wash., Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Keith Alholm said from Seattle.
Divers were inspecting the hull to determine whether the ship is floatable, authorities said.
The vessel is carrying 227 passengers and 30 crew members, Alholm said. The ship's owner -- American West Steamboat Company -- said there were 180 passengers and 80 crew members.
Passengers remained on board as officials tried to determine whether to remove them as the vessel rests on the sandbar or allow them to disembark when it returns to Washougal.


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