McALLEN, Texas — Carnival Cruise Lines knew about the risk of leaks from engine fuel hoses and recommended taking precautions on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph that later caught on fire at sea, according to court documents.
A compliance notice report sent to the Triumph one month before it departed Galveston on Feb. 7 for what was planned as a four-day cruise recommended spray shields be installed on engines' flexible fuel hoses, according to the documents filed Tuesday by Carnival Cruise Lines in federal court in Miami.
A leak from a hose on engine No. 6 led to a fire early on Feb. 10 as the ship returned from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico. No one was injured, but the fire disabled the ship. More than 4,000 people aboard endured a nightmarish tow to Mobile, Ala., that the plaintiffs' attorney called a "floating hell."
The documents, first reported by CNN, are part of a lawsuit that was filed in February against Carnival Cruise Lines and its parent Carnival Corporation on behalf of dozens of the Triumph's passengers.
Frank Spagnoletti, a Houston attorney who represents some of the passengers, said Tuesday that Carnival was negligent in maintaining the ship and allowed it to sail knowing there was a fire risk.
In a response filed Tuesday in Miami, Carnival said the ship's engines passed inspection before departure and its own recommendation to install spray shields on flexible fuel lines was beyond any required safety measures.
Carnival issued a statement calling the lawsuit frivolous and noting that the U.S. Coast Guard inspected and cleared the ship before its departure.
"The accident in this situation was just that — an accident," Carnival said in the statement emailed to the Associated Press on Wednesday. "To claim otherwise is simply unfounded and inconsistent with the facts."
It was the recognition of the problem — with a two-month repair deadline — along with the decision to let the Triumph sail before it was corrected that galled Spagnoletti.
"You've got 4,000 souls on that ship. You know that there's a propensity for fire if these fuel hoses break and yet you give them two months to fix it?" he said.
In a Nov. 22 deposition, ship captain Angelo Los said he was first notified by Carnival about problems with fuel leaks from flexible hoses in January. During the deposition, Spagnoletti showed Los the compliance notice report dated Jan. 2 that cited nine fuel leaks on Carnival Corporation's ships during a two-year period.
The compliance notice report said Carnival together with the engine manufacturer was investigating the problem and that installing spray shields would be an effective safety barrier. It described an incident on another ship outfitted with the spray shields that avoided a similar fire.
The company gave the ship until Feb. 28 to come into compliance.