Firefighting and salvage teams boarded the still-smoking Caribbean Fantasy off Puerto Rico Friday morning , assessing damage and vessel stability – and finding two deceased dogs, the sole casualties on board after a massive evacuation Wednesday morning.

At around 10 p.m. shifting sea state re-floated the grounded 561' car and passenger ferry, and tugboats established tow lines around 2 a.m. Saturday, according to the Coast Guard Seventh District headquarters in Miami. Around 8 a.m. dive teams reported no significant hull damage, while firefighters entering the engine room reported only a single source of fire remaining.

The vessel is to be moved to Pier 15 at San Juan where salvage efforts will continue.

The Caribbean Fantasy fire was reported around 7:40 a.m. Wednesday, as the vessel approached San Juan at the end of its thrice-weekly run between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Almost all 511 passengers were off by 10 a.m., exiting the ship from emergency slides and being rescued by the Coast Guard, local agencies and the port’s tugs, fire boats and pilots.

Several passengers were injured on the slides and local officials said 24 were hospitalized, none for serious conditions.

In Cruise Control, a 2015 investigation of the cruise industry’s health and safety records, the nonprofit journalism group Pro Publica reported the Caribbean Fantasy was cited for 107 deficiencies during Coast Guard inspections in recent years. One Jan. 21, 2015 inspector’s report had this to say about the engine room: “Oil fuel lines shall be screened or otherwise suitably protected to avoid oil spray or oil leakages onto hot surfaces, into machinery air intakes or other sources of ignition.”

After the missing dogs were found Friday, the owners of the pets were notified in person morning at Coast Guard Sector San Juan and the remains brought ashore.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to the owners of the pets for their loss," said Capt. Robert Warren, the incident commander of the response. "Many of us are also pet owners who love our animals and consider them part of our family."

Meanwhile the Caribbean Fantasy Response Unified Command, consisting of the Coast Guard, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources and vessel owner Baja Ferries, La Paz, Mexico, coordinated response and recovery plans.

While there were no reports of fuel sheens or pollution around the vessel, booming was deployed at cooling water intakes  for the nearby Palo Seco Power Plant as a precaution, and 14,000’ of booming was pre-staged near Punta Salinas.

Houston, Texas-based Ardent Global Marine Services finalized a salvage and towing plan that was approved by the Coast Guard.

Assisting the response efforts are ferry operators American Cruise Ferries, the Department of Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the National Response Corporation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, emergency management consultants  Witt O'Brien's, Houston, the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency and the Puerto Rico Fire Department.



Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.