Thursday, April 25, 2013

Barge Blaze Forces Evacuation of Cruise Ship That's No Stranger to Sudden Crises

Firefighters this morning battled a huge blaze that erupted when two fuel barges exploded in Mobile, Alabama, leaving three people with critical burns and forcing the evacuation of crew from a nearby cruise ship.

The story and pictures of the exploding barges caught my attention. But what really pulled me in was the name of that evacuated cruise ship. It was the Carnival Triumph. Yes, the same Carnival Triumph that became disabled in the Gulf of Mexico in February and had to be towed to Mobile's port. Workers bailed early today. They were trying to fix the electrical problem that stranded passengers in the middle of the gulf with little to eat and drink and lack of air conditioning and sanitary conditions. (See my blog post on February 14 at The Triumph was evacuated, said Alan Waugh, who lives across the river from the scene of the explosions. Waugh saw the blasts and said Carnival employees and others were standing together on the street as authorities evacuated the entire shipyard.

"Carnival didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment late Wednesday."  (

By late Thursday morning as I write this, there's no comment on Carnival's website nor on the site of Houston-based Kirby Inland Marine, which owns the barges.

But Kirby Inland had a spokesperson who talked to reporters. "(Greg Beuerman) said the barges were empty and being cleaned at the Oil Recovery Co. facility when the incident began. He said the barges had been carrying a liquid called natural gasoline -- which he said is neither liquefied natural gas or natural gas. He said the company has dispatched a team to work with investigators to determine what caused the fire."

There's got to be a curse on the Triumph. According to its blog, "Carnival Cruise Lines is cancelling an additional two five-day voyages of the Carnival Triumph following a severe storm on Wednesday, April 3, in Mobile where it was undergoing repairs at a local wet dock facility.

"During the storm, which had winds exceeding 70 miles per hour, Carnival Triumph broke away from its moorings at the BAE shipyard when four of the bollards on the pier that the mooring lines were tied to broke apart, causing damage to the vessel and delaying repair work.... The situation has resulted in a 10-day delay in the scheduled repair plan. The Carnival Triumph is now scheduled to return to service from Galveston, Texas, on June 13." (

Kirby Inland so far has nothing on its website about the explosions and fire on its barges. Ironically, the company's safety blog hours before the fire contained a post about 911 and the explosions in Boston and West, Texas. "For the past several days, we have learned to respect and appreciate our first responders, more than ever.... It is events such as these that we realize how truly important our first responders are." (

Kirby Inland now can join Carnival Triumph, the Boston Marathon, and West Fertilizer Company on the list of those who have suffered serious sudden crises. We can learn from them. I don't know which if any was operating from a crisis communications plan. Carnival, maybe. The others, I would guess probably not.

How about you? Are you prepared for the worst? Do you know what you would say in the first hour, families you would contact, employees you would call, customers and suppliers who need to know their operations might be affected, political leaders who want to be in the loop.... You may have other key audiences. But without contact lists, you will be hard-pressed during a sudden crisis to think clearly and find the time to make your lists on the fly.

No matter how big or how small you are, you must have a crisis communications plan.

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