DFDS Seacruises (Bahamas) Ltd. v. US, 86-0481-CIV.

Citation676 F. Supp. 1193
Decision Date21 December 1987
Docket NumberNo. 86-0481-CIV.,86-0481-CIV.
PartiesDFDS SEACRUISES (BAHAMAS) LTD. and Assurance-Compagniet Baltica, Aktieselskab, Plaintiffs, v. UNITED STATES of America, Cape Canaveral Volunteer Fire Department and Merritt Island Volunteer Fire Department, Defendants, v. SCANDINAVIAN WORLD CRUISES (BAHAMAS) LTD., Third-Party Defendant.
CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Southern District of Florida

Nils Linfors, Jr., and Reginald M. Hayden, Jr., Hayden & Milliken, P.A., Miami, Fla., Richard G. Ashworth, Haight, Gardner, Poor & Evans, New York City, for plaintiffs & third-party defendant.

Irving A. Pianin, Torts Branch, Civ. Div. U.S. Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., Leon B. Kellner, U.S. Atty's Office, Miami, Fla., for U.S.

Harold P. Bistline, Leon Stromire, P.A., Cocoa, Fla., David Bobbitt, Mottlau & Abel, Miami Fla., for Cape Canaveral Volunteer Fire Dept.

Eben G. Crawford & Thomas A. Dye, Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, Miami, Fla., for Merritt Island Volunteer Fire Dept.


NESBITT, District Judge.

This cause was heard before the Court without a jury. After due consideration of the evidence, and having examined the exhibits, pleadings, stipulations, and otherwise being duly advised in the premises, the Court pursuant to Rule 52(a) Federal Rules of Civil Procedure makes the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law.


A little fire is quickly trodden out,

Which being suffered, rivers cannot quench.
King Henry VI, Part 3Act iv, Scene viii.

On March 9, 1984, a fire was discovered aboard the cruise ship Scandinavian Sea shortly before 7:20 p.m. while the vessel was on a "cruise to nowhere" approximately nine miles southeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying 744 passengers and 202 crew-members. Subsequent investigation determined that the fire was deliberately set in a crewman's cabin, 414. When discovered, the fire was an extremely small circle of flame, but through a series of events1 the fire spread outside of the cabin to a number of cabins and in and between the decks. The Scandinavian Sea reached port approximately one hour and forty minutes later. The evidence is disputed whether the fire was "under control" or not when it reached port.2 For the next two days local, regional and federal agencies relentlessly fought the fire until it was extinguished. Fortunately, no lives were lost nor were any serious injuries sustained by passengers, crew, shoreside firefighters or Coast Guard personnel. The fire was confined to the ship's forward fire zone, saving most of the ship from burning.

DFDS Seacruises (Bahamas) Ltd. and Assurance-Compagniet Baltica, Aktiesekskab (Plaintiffs), the owners and underwriters of the Scandinavian Sea, filed a complaint in admiralty alleging negligent firefighting against the Defendants, two volunteer fire departments, the United States Coast Guard (Coast Guard), and Cape Canaveral Volunteer Fire Department (CCVFD) and Merritt Island Volunteer Fire Department (MIVFD)3. The Plaintiffs further alleged that the United States is liable for failing to establish a shipboard firefighting contingency plan. Defendants denied the allegations of negligence and filed counterclaims for salvage awards. The United States also filed a Third-Party Complaint against Scandinavian World Cruises (Bahamas) Ltd., the operator of the vessel, for contribution and indemnity and for salvage. The United States has contended that the Court lacks jurisdiction over the contingency planning issue.

Based upon the requests of all parties, the trial proceeded as to liability only. The issue of damages was reserved pending the outcome of the liability issues.

The Fire Before Docking

On March 9, 1984, the Scandinavian Sea4 departed from Port Canaveral with 744 passengers and 202 crewmembers aboard, proceeded approximately nine miles offshore, anchored and carried out its normal activities. The ship's officers consisted of a Master, Chief Officer, First Officer, Radio Officer, Chief Engineer and eight engineers. Although the ship's emergency plan required a Second Officer, to save costs the ship was operating with a reduced complement of officers.

At approximately 7:15 p.m. while passing through the "A" deck area, the ship's plumber, Foilan Burgos (Burgos) saw smoke issuing from around the edges of the closed door of cabin 414. Cabin 414 is located on "A" deck forward at frame 170.5 When Burgos and a ship's bar waiter unlocked the door they observed a very small circle of flame on the carpet. The fire was described by the plumber as only about one foot in diameter at that time. Subsequent investigation determined that the fire had been deliberately set.

Of the 202 crewmembers on board the Scandinavian Sea, nine were predesignated to make up the ship's firefighting party. Burgos was one of the ship's firefighters.

Manual fire alarms were located in the immediate vicinity of cabin 414. Burgos could not locate a nearby alarm, but instead, he descended to the "B" deck and used a telephone some 100 feet away to notify the bridge. At 7:20 p.m. Burgos advised the Master, Chief Officer and Radio Officer, who were on the bridge of the smoke on "A" deck.

Just seconds later, the ship's automatic fire detection panel on the bridge activated, indicating a source of heat on the "A" deck forward. At this point the ship's Master, Leo Kjeldsen, deactivated the alarm which would have sounded thirty seconds later by automatic relay in the crew's quarters. The Master sent the Chief Officer, Anders Pedersen, to investigate.

Following his notification to the bridge, Burgos returned to cabin 414 on "A" deck and attempted to extinguish the fire with a portable water extinguisher, but he found the extinguisher virtually without pressure. Burgos and another crewman who was in the area then moved aft and waited. A readily available and pressurized fire hose located in a conspicuously marked fire station locker some four feet from cabin 414 was not utilized.

Meanwhile, the Chief Officer arrived on "A" deck, saw the smoke and radioed the bridge to raise the alarm to the crew. The alarm was raised several minutes after Burgos had called the bridge. The Chief Officer, who was second in command under the Master, then had the plumber don an oxygen breathing apparatus ("OBA") and sent him into the fire area alone with a small dry powder extinguisher.

Burgos returned to cabin 414 and found that the fire had spread and the heat and smoke production had intensified. He discharged the powder extinguisher but observed little effect on the fire; he left the extinguisher in the doorway which prevented the door from closing. Burgos' failure to close the cabin door permitted the quickly growing fire to spread outside the cabin. This factor, among others, turned a situation which should have been quelled into an extremely serious and difficult emergency.6

For the next hour the ship's fire parties unsuccessfully attempted to fight the fire. They made several attacks from aft of frame 153 and also an attack down a forward stairwell leading from main deck to "A" deck at frame 179. Each time the crew entered with hoses forward of the fire door at frame 153, they experienced overwhelming heat and smoke. This intense heat also confronted the crew as they fought the fire by descending through the forward stairwell. The crew was further hindered by inadequate or poorly maintained equipment each time they descended the forward stairwell. For example, a nozzle broke off a hose and the steel handle on the door broke.7

During this period ship's firefighters were exhausting the available OBA canisters. At some point well before docking, the crew's air supply was exhausted and firefighting in the "A" deck forward of frame 153 was suspended. The crew was also hampered in its firefighting efforts by the fact that a number of air bottles aboard were incompletely filled; a broken air compressor prevented the crew from recharging their OBA's.

Meanwhile, at approximately 6.5 miles out to sea, passengers were evacuated from the cabins to open decks. As the cabins on main and upper decks were evacuated, some of the cabin doors were left open.

At approximately 7:40, the Master advised the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Cape Canaveral that there was a fire aboard on a "lower deck, believed under control, 6 miles out." The Master requested that the Coast Guard have the shoreside fire department (not the Coast Guard) meet the ship at the dock upon arrival.

Coast Guard Station Cape Canaveral is a small unit within United States Coast Guard Group Mayport, Florida. Its station missions include search and rescue, law enforcement, aids to navigation and reserve training. By 7:43 p.m., the station had a patrol boat underway to provide escort to the Scandinavian Sea. At approximately 7:50 p.m., the CCVFD was notified and within minutes had two trucks enroute to the port terminal to await the ship's arrival.

At approximately 8:26 p.m., the ship repeated its request for the shoreside fire department and reported that it was trying to contain the fire, was having problems with smoke, and that all passengers had been evacuated to open decks. At 8:57 p.m. the Scandinavian Sea berthed the power. As she approached the pier smoke could be seen billowing from the area of the vertical door of the upper deck.

The Fire After Docking

The ship's Chief Officer greeted the CCVFD members who boarded as soon as the ship arrived. The Chief Officer described the fire to the boarding firefighters as "out of control" and directed the CCVFD Chief and its firefighters to the "A" deck forward. CCVFD found the fire door at frame 153 wide open with ship's hoses running from aft of the door into the fire area. Some CCVFD members experienced severe heat and smoke upon entering the area and found fires in at least three cabins.

During the initial period CCVFD decided to use their own hoses from shore. This decision was based...

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