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Marine Log

May 6, 2008

Negligence charged in S.S. Norway boiler explosion

Norwegian Cruise Line Limited (NCLL) has been charged under federal shipping laws with grossly negligent operation of the S.S. NORWAY, thereby placing the lives and property of persons on board the vessel at risk, and thereby leading to the death of at least one individual., in violation of Title 46, United States Code, Section 2302(b). The case has been assigned to the Honorable Federico A. Moreno, United States District Court Judge. No hearings are set as yet.

The one count criminal Information filed in Miami, May 2, alleges that on May 25, 2003, NCLL, a Bermuda corporation with its corporate headquarters in Miami, was the owner and operator of the S.S. NORWAY when one of the vessel’s boilers ruptured, while the vessel was moored in the Port of Miami. As a result of the failure of part of the boiler system, eight crewmembers were killed and ten others seriously injured.

A Complaint For Civil Injunctive Relief was also filed May 2, against NCL (Bahamas), LTD., a Bermuda corporation which assumed operational control of several ships that were previously operated by NCLL. The case has been assigned to the Honorable James Lawrence King, United States District Court Judge. The Civil Complaint reflects that NCLL has agreed to plead guilty to the companion Criminal Information and pay a criminal fine. NCL has agreed that, as operator of the former NCLL vessels, it will assume legal responsibility for carrying out certain procedural and safety reviews under the auspices of an independent consultant, to ensure that NCL has in effect safe practices in vessel operations, a safe working environment, and proper safeguards against identified risks. The review will specifically include consideration of procedures related to the maintenance. Operation, and inspection of all boiler systems on NCL vessels. The Department of Justice release notes that "S.S. NORWAY, itself, has been permanently removed from maritime service." [In fact, the liner has been scrapped, under the name Blue Lady, in a saga that aroused strong concern from environmental groups such as the Basel Action Network]

The National Transportation Safety Board recently released the results of its investigation into the S.S. NORWAY casualty in which it concluded that a weld on a seam of a high-pressure drum fractured, releasing almost 20 tons of high temperature water, which immediately flashed into steam and swept through the engine spaces and some adjacent crew berthing areas, resulting in the death of eight crewmembers and the injury of others. No passengers were injured. The report noted that the failed system had a history of fatigue cracking, corrosion, and pitting. The Board Report concluded that the ultimate failure of the boiler system was failure of adequate care in the maintenance, operation, and inspection of the S.S. NORWAY’s boilers.

R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida Acosta stated that “Charges such as those today are necessary to show that companies operating and managing ships have a duty to take reasonable measures to assure the safety of all onboard-- passengers and crew, and that they will be held accountable if they fail to meet that obligation.”

Rear Admiral Robert S. Branham, Commander Seventh Coast Guard District, stated that "The boiler explosion aboard the SS NORWAY was a preventable tragedy. It is appropriate that the corporation be held accountable for their negligent maintenance procedures. Hopefully, this case will send a message to the maritime industry that marine safety should be the paramount consideration in maintaining their vessels."

Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, whose investigative efforts led to the charges in this case.

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