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Princess: Smoke on Grand Princess caused by engine failure, not a fire

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Princess Cruises says the smoke seen billowing from the 2,600-passenger Grand Princess late Monday was the result of an unexpected breakdown of one of the ship's engines, not a fire.

News outlets in Jamaica this morning reported that a fire broke out on the ship as it sailed away from the island. But Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson says nothing ever was burning on the vessel.

"Upon departure from Ocho Rios yesterday, one of Grand Princess' engines suddenly stopped, emitting a large amount of smoke into the engine spaces," Benson tells USA TODAY. "There was no fire, and the safety of the ship and our passengers was never compromised."

Benson says the breakdown of the engine did affect the ship's speed, causing it to arrive about two hours late this morning at its next port of call, Grand Cayman. She says the line expects the problem with the engine to be fixed before the ship departs Grand Cayman this afternoon.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported this morning that residents of the Runaway Bay area of the island saw thick black smoke billowing from the Grand Princess shortly after it left Ocho Rios, one of its regular stops. The ship came to a halt for about 25 minutes, the paper says, and "eyewitnesses said at one stage almost the entire vessel was covered in smoke."

The Gleaner says that after the smoke died down the ship appeared to be turning back towards the Ocho Rios area, but then changed course and headed in a northerly direction. "After sailing some miles off the coast it again came to a halt and was docked at that location up to press time last night."

Another Jamaica newspaper, the Jamaica Observer, initially reported the smoke was the result of an oven fire, citing a port official who said he talked with the ship.

UPDATE, 1:45 P.M.: It looks like the damage to the Grand Princess from last night's incident is worse than originally thought. Princess spokeswoman Julie Benson tells USA TODAY the engine that failed will remain out of action for at least the rest of this week's cruise and is now scheduled to undergo repairs when the ship returns to Ft. Lauderdale.

Benson also revealed more details about last night's incident, which it turns out affected more than one of the ship's six engines. The problem began with the failure of a turbo charger casing on one of the engines, which automatically shut down, she says. But "the transfer of electrical load to the ship's other engines resulted in further turbo charger problems, and, as a result, one turbo charger on (another engine) seized, causing smoke in the engine spaces."

Benson says the ship's engineers were able to vent the smoke out of the ship and stabilize the situation, but the vessel only was able to muster power from three of it six engines to continue on to Grand Cayman. Benson says all but one engine are now back on line, and the good news for cruisers on the voyage is the ship will have enough power to finish the trip without further delays.

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