Three crew members killed by toxic gas on cruise ship in LA port
LOS ANGELES – Three crew members were killed by toxic sewer gas Friday as they repaired a waste pipe on a cruise ship that had just returned to the Port of Los Angeles. No passengers were involved.Nineteen other members of the Monarch of the Seas’ crew, including two ship’s physicians and a nurse, were examined but most were not believed to have actually been exposed to the toxic gas, authorities said.Passengers were disembarking from the Royal Caribbean line ship at the time of the incident and none were affected, the company said in a statement. “All guests have safely departed the ship,” it said.Officials first identified the gas as methane but later determined it was hydrogen sulfide, which occurs in sewage, said Barbara Yu, a supervising hazardous-materials specialist for the Los Angeles County Fire Department.The three crew members probably died within 30 seconds of encountering the gas, Yu said.”It deadens your sense of smell so you don’t even smell it,” she said.The ship was expected to depart at midnight Friday on a cruise to the Mexican port of Ensenada, several hours later than it was originally scheduled to leave port, Royal Caribbean spokesman Michael Sheehan said.The incident occurred at midmorning after the vessel returned from a cruise with about 2,500 passengers and 850 crew members, said city Fire Department Battalion Chief Lou Roupoli. The ship makes regular trips down Mexico’s Pacific coast.Royal Caribbean said crew members were replacing a section of pipe connected to the ship’s sewage system when the accident occurred.The broken line expelled about five gallons of raw sewage and an unknown amount of gas in the starboard propeller shaft tunnel, Roupoli said.Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Tony Migliorini said the repair crew could have worn special masks but they usually are not required for such operations.The ship’s first officer declared a medical emergency at 9:03 a.m. and an onboard rescue team with breathing apparatus retrieved the fallen workers, according to Roupoli and the cruise line statement.City firefighters arrived about a half hour later with 11 ambulances, two hazardous materials units and other equipment. Roupoli said at late morning that the situation was stable.Fire officials said the repair was being done in an isolated, enclosed space and that most of those who later reported feelings of nausea had not been in the space but decided that they wanted to be checked out.”People tend to have psychosomatic symptoms even though they’re not exposed,” Yu said.Jens Gulowsen, first officer of the ship, said he was on deck at the time of the accident and he referred questions about it to the cruise line’s offices in Miami.Gulowsen said he did not know the crew members involved but “they did as they were supposed to do.”The ship, which has primarily Norwegian officers, has crew members from all over the world, Gulowsen said.Royal Caribbean said the Coast Guard and local authorities were immediately notified and that the cruise line “will fully assist in the investigation of the incident.”Passenger Yvonne Powers of Sacramento said she was about to disembark with her daughter when she saw men in hazardous-materials protective gear going downstairs.”Nobody said anything to us,” Powers said.Later, after they had left the ship, there was a public address announcement that there had been a mishap and that “we’ve got it under control,” she said.Passenger Cindy Vasquez of Kingman, Ariz., was waiting to depart the ship with her husband and others when they realized something was wrong.”We heard a lot of sirens, and heard the helicopters,” she said.She said the crew kept everyone calm as they left the ship.”It was very, very in order. The panic level was nothing,” Vasquez said.The 14-year-old Monarch of the Seas is based in Los Angeles harbor. Registered in the Bahamas, it and can carry up to 2,744 passengers and 856 crew, according to the company’s Web site.The ship is 880 feet long, 106 feet wide, cruises at 21 knots and has 14 passenger decks.Vail – Colorado
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