Last updated: 11:46 AM ET, Fri February 05 2016

Shipyard Fires: Lost Money, Lost Contracts and Lost Names

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Jason Leppert | February 05, 2016

Shipyard Fires: Lost Money, Lost Contracts and Lost Names

Photo by Jason Leppert

Emerald Waterways reported Tuesday that its newest Emerald Belle caught fire while under construction at the Den Breejen Shipyard in the Netherlands, causing significant damage.

Unfortunately, such incidents are not entirely uncommon during cruise ship manufacturing. Natural (and in some cases, man-made) disasters can sidetrack a ship's completion, and in at least one case, cause a ship to lose its name all together. A look through recent history shows a wide array of shipyard incidents.

In regards to the Emerald Belle, authorities have said that the fire could very well delay the riverboat’s planned April launch. The line is currently looking at its bookings to best accommodate future guests.

Two Tales of "Bad Things Happen in Threes"

Under construction at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in Japan, AIDA Cruises’ AIDAprima has experienced three small fires at the shipyard in January 2016 alone. After finding “cardboard and insulation material ablaze,” according to The Japan Times, authorities suspected arson as the cause. The occurrence follows an electrical wiring fire, a cabin fire and several design changes that have already delayed the 124,500-ton ship’s launch, now scheduled for April.

Following what would seem to be a bizarre rule of three, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Epic also experienced a trio of minor fires during construction in 2010. The 153,000-ton ship was built by STX Europe in St. Nazaire, France where separate fires occurred in an air conditioning room, waterslide area and deck four, affecting cabling. The first two blazes were viewed as suspicious, and the third was also considered likely deliberate.

READ MORE: Norwegian Epic Lives Up To Its Name

Shine Bright Like a ... Sapphire?

And then there's the case of the fire that caused a ship to surrender its name and its launch date.

The original press release is still live and states that Princess Cruises’ Diamond Princess also caught fire while being built at the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard in Nagasaki, Japan in 2002. The incident was described as “major” and “significant.”

In fact, the damage was so severe that the vessel’s sister ship, the Sapphire Princess, was moved up in the building queue to be launched as the Diamond Princess in 2004 instead, and the originally affected Diamond Princess was renamed Sapphire Princess and set sail later in the same year.

The Aftermath is Costly

Such fires certainly don’t bode well for the cruise lines affected, and especially the shipyards themselves whose reputations are at stake. In the case of suspected foul play, the shipyard is on the hook for potential breaches of security and the actions of anyone in the yard, be it an authorized visitor or a disgruntled employee. 

Certainly accidents also happen, but after such a major Princess Cruises blaze and now the minor AIDA Cruises fires, parent Carnival Corporation must be rethinking any future ships to come from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

AIDA may very well return to construction at Meyer Werft in Germany (pictured above building AIDAmar) as Norwegian Cruise Line has for its latest Breakaway and Breakaway Plus class of ships. Also, following the eventual launches of the Diamond and Sapphire, Princess Cruises switched production of all its ships to Fincantieri in Italy.

Very few cruise ships have actually been built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, and at least STX Europe has a long history of shipbuilding in France as Chantiers de l’Atlantique and has since built many more passenger ships. Most notably under construction now is Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas, which will be the largest cruise ship in the world once completed.


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