‘Ruby’ couple Martin and Pam Mullan caught up in Caribbean cruise line inferno

Martin and Pam Mullan experienced a 40th wedding anniversary they will never forget when the liner on which they were sailing burst into flames in the Lucayan archipelago just north of the Caribbean.

Last Thursday the well-known Derry couple were among thousands of passengers on board Carnival Cruise Line’s conquest-class ship, the Carnival Freedom, when its funnel caught fire as it sailed into Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos.

“It was crazy. What a 40th anniversary,” Martin told the ‘Journal’, speaking from terra firma in Orlando, Florida this week. It was scary enough to be honest with you at the time.

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“At about 6.30am we were lying sleeping and the next thing the sirens went off and the crew were summoned to their various stations.

The flaming funnel on Carnival Freedom

“We thought it was another drill but then there was a bit of a kerfuffle outside.

“The next thing our doors are getting thumped and we’re being told to get to our muster station quickly because the ship is on fire.

“We proceeded to go to the muster stations. Everybody was running with life jackets on so we put them on.

“You could smell the smoke coming in. We were on the sixth deck - these ships are an incredible size.

Pam and Martin Mullan with life jackets on in the middle of the emergency

“When we eventually got outside it was pandemonium. People were running around. There were children crying, parents were upset.”

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According to a statement from Carnival, the ship’s smokestack had caught fire in port in Grand Turk.

The Carnival Freedom’s emergency response team was quickly activated and set about extinguishing the fire inside the funnel.

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The charred remains of the smokestack.
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“We were strangely calm,” said Martin.

“We were thinking this is like something you only see on TV. They started to lower the lifeboats but then they said they would prefer us to return to our rooms.

“At this stage we didn’t even know we were in port. We turned on the television in our cabin and put on the cameras to the deck and the thing was still blazing.

“We then got an announcement from the captain saying there was a situation but they were trying to get it under control.

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Martin and Pam being interviewed by Fox News upon their late arrival in Florida.

“It was very, very scary I have to tell you. It took them about four or five hours to actually put the fire out.”

With the ship unable to sail 2504 guests and 972 crew were stranded in Grand Turk while another vessel was dispatched from the US to pick them up.

“The ship was that badly burned - it was still able to function as a hotel - but they had to send for another ship from Miami. The chimney stack is about 30 or 40 foot high.

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"When you look at how that burned with the stuff all going down the side as well. It was on the windows and the debris was strewn about. It was only the next day you realised how crazy it was. We were meant to dock in Florida on the Saturday but instead we didn’t get back until the Monday.

“Whenever the other ship arrived the whole crew, the chefs, everybody, were all leaning over the sides and the horns were going.

“It was actually quite moving, with the cheering of our crowd. It was something you never would have expected.”

Carnival apologised to all those guests who were impacted and offered special thanks to the crew who handled the situation on the ship effectively and according to safety protocols.

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Martin also praised the staff and the cruise line who provided compensation to the passengers and a discount on their next voyage.

But it was all a rather surreal experience for the Derry couple who had been anticipating a relaxing sojourn in the Caribbean to celebrate their ‘ruby’ anniversary.

“You laugh now but you only realise how serious it was when it was making the national headlines in the US.

“The main thing was that everybody was safe - all the passengers and more importantly the crew. Thank God. They were telling us that it would have been a different story if it had happened at sea. When you look at the footage it was quite scary.”

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