The fire on board the Regal Empress involved combustible ceilings and walls in the dining area. When built, existing regulations allowed the use of combustible material when protected by sprinklers. Even though the ship was refurbished in 1993, its owners were not required to upgrade the fire protection rating of the walls and ceilings in the dining area.

Passenger ships built under today’s regulations are permitted only limited use of combustible materials—including veneers, moldings, and facings—generally only for aesthetic reasons and only in limited thickness. Even after the fire aboard the Regal Empress. combustible materials were allowed to be used for repairs in the dining area. Ships undergoing repairs, alterations, or outfitting are required to comply with updated requirements regarding noncombustibility only if the modifications are of a “major character,” defined by the International Maritime Organization as

  • any change that alters ship dimensions;

any change that substantially alters the passenger-carrying capacity of the ship: and/or

any change that substantially increases the ship’s service life.

But though such regulations exist, the requirements are met only as deemed reasonable and practicable by the government of the state whose flag the ship is entitled to fly.

In spite of the fart that combustible structural members contributed to fire spread, plywood was used extensively in repairing the Regal Empress. (Photo by author.)

(Photo by author.)

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