Princess Cruises was flying more than 2,600 passengers home with full refunds this weekend after a fire — possibly caused by a cigarette — broke out aboard a giant ship, leaving a Georgia man dead and 11 other people injured.
About 1,600 people were expected to leave Friday and the rest on Saturday, said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica’s director of tourism.
“We believe the best course of action is to terminate the current cruise in Montego Bay,” Princess Cruises said in a statement late Thursday. “All passengers currently onboard will be flown home over the next two days, and will receive a full refund of their cruise and air fare.”
The fire broke out early Thursday as the Star Princess sailed through the moonlit Caribbean, charring some 150 rooms and leaving a big charred spot on the white ship.
“We consider ourselves very lucky,” Toronto resident Klemens Fass told The Associated Press after he and his wife were evacuated Thursday with other passengers. “When we got out of our stateroom ... there was someone lying in the hallway passed out. He was being attended to but it was very, very scary.”
A smoldering cigarette is suspected as the cause of the blaze, said Horace Peterkin, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, who toured the ship after it docked here.
Karl Angell, communications director for the Jamaican police, identified the man who died as Richard Liffidge, 75, of Georgia. Some media in the victim’s home state said the name was spelled Liffridge and put his age at 72. He collapsed on deck, although the exact cause of death was not immediately known.
After the fire started about 3 a.m. Thursday, passengers grabbed life jackets and raced to “muster stations” said Julie Benson, spokeswoman for Princess Cruises, which is owned by Miami-based Carnival Corp. The crew put out the fire, then did a cabin-by-cabin check, she said.
The Star Princess was sailing from Grand Cayman to Jamaica when the blaze started. Reportedly built at a cost of over $430 million, it has four swimming pools, a half-dozen restaurants and dining rooms, a casino, two theaters, and several nightclubs. It stretches about three football fields long.
“This is the first time such a tragedy has occurred during the history of our company, and we are devastated by this incident,” the statement from Princess Cruises said. “Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the fire.”
Zach Bramlage, 19, of Columbus, Ohio, said he was having a late-night meal when word spread of the fire.
“Some people just ran in where we were eating and told us the ship is on fire, and we got our life vests real quick and headed downstairs,” Bramlage said. “I was pretty scared initially but the captain came over the (intercom) and told us everything was going to be all right.”
Hours after the ship arrived in Montego Bay about noon, passengers boarded buses that took them to hotels in the nearby resort towns of Negril and Ocho Rios. Other vacationers remained on board.
David Haltom said he and his wife were honeymooning on the cruise. Thursday morning they awoke in their cabin to the smell of smoke and sounds of commotion in the halls.
“Everybody ran. There were people in nightgowns and robes because it happened so fast,” Haltom said by phone from his Negril hotel. The crew lowered lifeboats to the ship deck and instructed passengers to grab their life vests, he said.
After the blaze was extinguished, passengers were allowed to retrieve belongings from their smoke-blackened cabins.