The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has today issued a Safety Bulletin in connection with a fire that broke out on the Bermudan-registered cruise ship Star Princess while it was on passage from Grand Cayman to Montego Bay, Jamaica on 23 March 2006. There were 2,690 passengers and 1,123 crew on board.

The seat of the fire was on an external balcony sited on deck 10 of the vessel's port side. The fire spread rapidly along adjacent balconies and within ten minutes had spread to decks above. It also spread internally. One passenger died as the result of smoke inhalation and 13 others were treated for the effects of smoke.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined and the MAIB is continuing its investigation on behalf of the Bermuda Maritime Administration in cooperation with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

However, the investigation has already identified serious shortcomings in fire protection on ships' balconies which require urgent attention. The MAIB and its partners, therefore, have worked with the cruise industry world-wide to ensure that short-term measures are immediately put in place to safeguard passengers. These include

- increased vigilance on vessels with balconies, with consideration given to dedicated lookouts and additional fire patrols;
- a review of crew onboard training and response;
- advice to passengers and crew.

The industry has also agreed to implement medium-term structural measures as soon as practical.

The UK's Chief Inspector of Marine Accidents, Stephen Meyer, praised the industry for its speedy response. He said:

"Fires such as this are extremely rare and I am confident that the cruise industry has identified measures to ensure that a similar accident will not happen again. In the meantime we will continue with our investigation and to monitor the implementation of our recommendations."