Inquiry into why cruise ship lost power with almost 4,500 on board in Irish Sea

Bermudan authorities to publish findings, believed to be caused by electrical fault

Bermuda has initiated an investigation into how a "mega-class" cruise ship with almost 4,500 people on board spent nine hours drifting without power in the Irish Sea earlier this month. The 290-metre Caribbean Princess was forced to abandon a scheduled visit to Dublin Port after the serious incident occurred 25 miles southeast of the capital off the Wicklow coast on August 3rd.

The 17-deck ship eventually regained power that evening and made its way to Belfast port, where it berthed in the early hours of August 4th.

Bermuda, the British overseas territory which is the port of registry for the ship, said it had continuously monitored the vessel’s situation “from the time of its propulsion failure until the full propulsion power was restored and its voyage to Belfast completed”.

The Bermuda Administration said it had been in "constant communication" with the British Maritime and Coastguard Agency on the incident. Holyhead Coast Guard despatched a tug and helicopter to the ship, which had 3,306 passengers and 1,158 crew on board when it lost power on its route up the Irish Sea. The ship had been en route from Cobh to Dublin as part of a 12-day cruise from Southampton.


The Irish Coast Guard’s Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre tasked the Dublin-based Sikorsky helicopter to fly over the vessel.

Princess Cruises, the US company which runs the ship, said its fleet technical experts, working in collaboration with the captain and chief engineer on board, restored propulsion just before 5pm on Wednesday.

It is understood the incident was initially treated as a potential security alert, due to fears of a terrorist incident at sea.

Marine rescue experts said it was fortunate that an easterly wind was not blowing as this could have caused the ship to ground off the Wicklow or Dublin coast.

Princess Cruises said the loss of power was “never considered to be caused by anything but what it was . . . a technical glitch”. It added: “Cruise ships are very complex machines with intricate technology and electrical systems which make them run,” the company said. “From time to time electrical glitches occur and in this case, the electrical switchboard which runs the six diesel generators that power the propulsion of the ship experienced a glitch.”

Bermuda chief marine surveyor Capt Pat Nawaratne has confirmed there was a failure of electrical power supply to the propulsion motors, but electrical power supply to all other equipment, passenger and crew accommodation was not affected at any time.

He said ship’s engineers and electrical officers, assisted by the machinery manufacturers, were “in the process of evaluating the causes leading to the propulsion failure, using both onboard and shore facilities. Once we have received their findings we will be in a position to complete our investigation and publish the outcome accordingly,” Capt Nawaratne added.

The Caribbean Princess has visited Irish ports before, including Dublin last year, and is scheduled to make 10 visits to Cobh in Cork harbour this year. It was back in Cobh this weekend.

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins

Lorna Siggins is the former western and marine correspondent of The Irish Times