Norwegian Cruise to plead guilty in deadly blast

MIAMI, May 2 (Reuters) - Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd. has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal charge of grossly negligent operation of a ship in connection with an explosion that killed eight crewmen on the S.S. Norway in 2003, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.

The cruise line will pay a criminal fine, but the amount was not disclosed in a news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office announcing the plea.

Company officials could not immediately be reached for comment after the close of business on Friday. Norwegian Cruise Line is part of the Star Cruises



The ship was docked at the Port of Miami when a boiler exploded on May 25, 2003, killing the eight crewmen and seriously injuring 10. Many of the victims were from the Philippines.

The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that a weld on a seam of a high-pressure drum ruptured, releasing nearly 20 tonnes of scalding water that turned into steam and swept through the engine room and adjacent crew quarters.

The NTSB said the failed system had a history of fatigue cracking, corrosion and pitting. It blamed the accident on failure to adequately maintain, operate and inspect the ship's boilers.

Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd., which is incorporated in Bermuda and has corporate headquarters in Miami, was the owner and operator of the S.S. Norway when the accident occurred. The ship is no longer in service.

A companion civil complaint was filed against NCL (Bahamas), Ltd., a Bermuda corporation that assumed operational control of several ships that were previously operated by Norwegian Cruise Line Ltd, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Alex Acosta, said in the news release.

NCL has agreed to assume legal responsibility for carrying out reviews under the auspices of an independent consultant, to ensure its vessels are operated safely, the U.S. attorney said.

"The boiler explosion aboard the S.S. Norway was a preventable tragedy," said Coast Guard Rear Adm. Robert Branham. "It is appropriate that the corporation be held accountable for their negligent maintenance procedures." (Editing by Xavier Briand)