Records for the Triumph show it was last inspected July 7, 2012. It scored 96 out of 100. The CDC considers scores of 85 or lower unsatisfactory. The lowest score the ship received was an 88, in 2009.
The Coast Guard also has a database, known as the U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Information Exchange, with inspections and any deficiencies found aboard ships, dating to when the vessels entered service. A search on the exchange's website for the Triumph turns up its certifications for things like passenger safety and pollution prevention as well as inspections. No violations or red flags are immediately evident. Searching a little deeper, the most recent report shows a propulsion issue from a Jan. 28 incident involving a short in a connection box of one of the ship's generators.
Bud Darr, the Cruise Lines International Association's senior vice president for technical and regulatory affairs, said the industry is "very heavily regulated," from the way ships are designed to how crews train for emergencies. He said standards are set by the United Nations' International Maritime Organization.
But Jim Walker, a Miami maritime attorney and author of the www.cruiselaw.com blog, said, "the IMO guidelines are not law and there is no consequence if the cruise lines ignore the guidelines and recommendations. Customers have no way of knowing whether they are well maintained safely. There is no federal oversight with real teeth."
Fires — though not all as major as the Triumph's — happen virtually every year on cruise ships. There were 79 onboard blazes from 1990 to 2011, according to a list compiled by Ross Klein, a professor who specializes in cruise industry issues at Memorial University in Newfoundland, Canada.
In 2010, the IMO adopted rules that require any large cruise ship built after July 1 of that year to have a separate, redundant system able to maintain the ship's propulsion, steering and so forth in case one engine is disabled by fire. The rules also mandate that ships be capable of maintaining basic services such as sanitation, water, food and lights in such circumstances.