On the afternoon of July 20, 1998, the Liberian passenger ship Ecstasy had departed the Port of Miami, Florida, en route to Key West, Florida, with 2,565 passengers and 916 crewmembers on board when a fire started in the main laundry shortly after 1700. The fire migrated through the ventilation system to the aft mooring deck where mooring lines ignited, creating intense heat and large amounts of smoke. As the Ecstasy was attempting to reach an anchorage north of the Miami sea buoy, the vessel lost propulsion power and steering and began to drift. The master then radioed the U.S. Coast Guard for assistance. A total of six tugboats responded to help fight the fire and to tow the Ecstasy. The fire was brought under control by onboard firefighters and was officially declared extinguished about 2109. Fourteen crewmembers and eight passengers suffered minor injuries. One passenger who required medical treatment as a result of a pre-existing condition was categorized as a serious injury victim because of the length of her hospital stay. Carnival Corporation, Inc., the owner of the Ecstasy, estimated that losses from the
fire and associated damages exceeded $17 million.
Contributing to the extensive fire damage on the ship was the lack of an automatic fire suppression system on the aft mooring deck and the lack of an automatic means of mitigating the spread of smoke and fire through the ventilation ducts.