Suit: Ferry that caught Fire off San Juan had numerous deficiencies
SAN JUAN – Between 2011 and 2015, the U.S. Coast Guard found at least 107 security deficiencies, of which 44 were related to the fire system used by Caribbean Fantasy, the ferry whose engine caught fire while on waters near Levittown on Aug. 17, resulting in the evacuation of more than 500 passengers, on of the largest maritime rescues in recent U.S. history.
That is according to two separate lawsuits filed by the Bellver Espinosa Law Firm in U.S. District Court against American Cruise Ferries over the Aug. 17 fire on Caribbean Fantasy.
The lawsuits filed last week gave a historical account of the ferry involved in the accident, detailing that it was built in 1989 in Japan and is Baja Ferries’ property. It does commercial activities between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico such as ferrying passengers.
Among the deficiencies found with the ferry’s fire system between 2011 and 2015 was the incorrect operation of its fire screen doors, which were often not able to be closed or were reported as open when in fact shut.
Inspections conducted by the Coast Guard also found problems with liferafts and other deficiencies, including with the vessels sprinkler system.
During the past 36 months, Coast Guard inspections led to detentions, the suits claim. In October, the ferry was detained in San Juan for three days for three deficiencies related to fire safety measures (international shore connection); crew certificates (certificates of competency) and ship’s certificates and documents (safety manning document).
The Coast Guard also warned that the fire extinguishers were not working properly.
Between March and July, the Ferry underwent maintenance work in Europe but still suffered deficiencies. In July, while refueling at the Port of Gibraltar before heading back across the Atlantic to Puerto Rico, the vessel was detained for six days because of deficiencies related to the auxiliary engines, the suits said.
After the alleged repairs at the Port of Gibraltar, the ferry continued its voyage to Puerto Rico.
While on its voyage, the ferry’s engines failed and was unable to continue for approximately a day. The ferry changed its course and traveled to Santo Domingo before arriving in San Juan, the suits said.
“A USCG inspection early August 2016, found four deficiencies related to fire safety measures and one related to the propulsion and auxiliary machinery,” the suit states.
In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs contend their damages were a direct consequence of defendants’ negligence for failing to provide a safe ferry, protect passengers and failing to maintain safe premises.
One of the lawsuits was filed by Gisselle Brioso and her child, who is blind, and the other was filed by Rosa Gutiérrez Soto and her husband, Ángel Lugo Burgos, over physical damages suffered as a result of the accident. Each lawsuit, which included as co-defendant Steamship Mutual Management, the vessel liability insurer, seeks $2 million in damages.
Meanwhile, Caribbean Business received a photo from a source claiming that the vessel’s chief engineer and the oiler suffered severe burns during the accident. The photo purportedly showed the engineer with severe burns. However, the Coast Guard, through its spokesman, Ricardo Castrodad, said American Cruise Ferries did not inform them of anyone suffering burns.
Efforts seeking comment weren’t immediately successful because no one with the authority to speak on behalf of American Cruise Ferries was available.