MIAMI — The explosion that injured 17 people on the luxury liner Emerald Seas and forced 1,000 passengers to evacuate was set off by an unexplained fire that ignited an oxygen tank, the president of the cruise line said today.
"There was a fire in the locker and an oxygen tank blew up," Eastern Cruise Lines President Bernard Chabot said three hours after the damaged ship limped into its home port of Miami. "The fire came first and we still don't know what caused it.
"There were chemicals stored in the locker--boiler cleaning chemicals, paint and electro-cleaner (a cleaning fluid)--and that filled the halls with smoke," Chabot said.
A spokeswoman for the cruise line said some looting occurred when passengers were evacuated on lifeboats. She said that it was not immediately known how much cash and jewelry was taken but that some items did disappear during the confusion.
Passenger Leslie Victor said the ship's crew had to rescue several passengers who got trapped behind fire doors that apparently closed automatically after the explosion Wednesday morning.
Crew Broke Portholes
"Apparently the doors had closed and there were some people left inside," she said. "From what I understand, the crew got in. They told the passengers to wet towels and put them over their heads. They broke the portholes so the smoke could go out, and they crawled with the people through the doors."
Chabot said 15 passengers and two crew members were injured in the explosion and fire on the ship's Topaz deck, the second of nine decks on the Emerald Seas.
One of the crew members suffered broken ribs when he was hit by a crank on a lifeboat, Chabot said. The other injuries involved smoke inhalation. All 17 were airlifted to Miami hospitals by the Coast Guard and were reported in satisfactory condition today.
The accident occurred Wednesday while the ship was anchored a few hundred yards off Little Stirrup Cay, a private island in the Bahamas used by the cruise line to entertain passengers, and most passengers were on deck waiting to be ferried to the island for a daylong outing.
Chabot said the ship's engines had been cut when the explosion occurred. He said that there never was an order to abandon ship but that the officers of the Emerald Seas decided to put the passengers on motorized lifeboats and take them to the island as a precautionary measure.
No Danger of Sinking
The fire was brought under control within an hour, and Coast Guard Petty Officer Luis Diaz said the 622-foot ship never was in danger of sinking.
The Emerald Seas drew into the Port of Miami at 6 a.m. today under its own power. Damage to electrical systems in the crew's galley had already been repaired.
Chabot said 26 cabins were damaged by smoke. The bulkheads were destroyed in four of the 26, and the other 22 will require cleaning and replacement of carpets.