The incident

On August 17, 2016, a fire broke out in the main engine room of the Ro-Ro passenger vessel Caribbean Fantasy when fuel spraying from a leaking flange contacted a hot surface on the port main propulsion engine.

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The fire was not possible to be contained, so the master ordered the ship to be abandoned. US Coast Guard and other responding vessels and aircraft, as well ass good Samaritan vessels, helped in the transportation of all 511 passengers and crew to the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Several injuries were reported, however none of them was lifethreatening. These injuries happened during firefighting and abandonment efforts. The burning vessel then drifted in the wind and grounded on the sandy bottom outside the port.

Three days after the incident, the vessel was towed into the harbor, where shore-based firefighters extinguished the fire. The accident caused about $20 million in damage to the Caribbean Fantasy, which was scrapped instead of being repaired.

Probable cause

The US National Transportation Safety Board said that the probable cause of the fire onboard Caribbean Fantasy was Baja Ferries’ insufficient safety culture and ineffective implementation of their safety management system onboard the vessel.

Poor maintenance practices caused fuel to spray from a blank flange at the end of the port main engine fuel supply line onto the hot exhaust manifold of the engine. Other factors that contributed to the fire were fuel and lube oil quick closing valves that were intentionally blocked open, fixed firefighting systems that were ineffective, and a structural fire boundary that failed.

In addition, the failure of the Panama Maritime Authority and the recognized organization, RINA Services, to ensure Baja Ferries’ safety management system was functional, played an important role to the incident.

NTSB also presented some safety issues that were identified in this accident:

  • Machinery maintenance practices;
  • Fuel and lube oil quick closing valves;
  • Fire protection;
  • Crew training on and familiarity with emergency systems and procedures;
  • Implementation of the company’s safety management system;
  • Oversight by the flag state and the flag state’s recognized organization.

Recommendations

As a result of this investigation, NTSB made recommendations to the US Coast Guard, Baja Ferries, RINA Services, the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), and the Panama Maritime Authority.

US Coast Guard

  • Require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during inspections and examinations, to make sure that the systems shut down as designed and intended.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of creating a passenger vessel safety specialist billet at each sector that has the potential for a search and rescue activity characterized by the need for immediate assistance to a large number of persons in distress, and staff sector-level billets, based on the findings of that evaluation.

Baja Ferries

  • Perform a worst-case scenario risk assessment for water-based fire suppression systems to evaluate if the existing freshwater supply is sufficient.
  • Review lifesaving appliance training program, including recordkeeping procedures, and revise the program to ensure that crewmembers are competent with onboard systems.
  • Provide formal and recurrent training to shoreside management and senior shipboard officers on the International Safety Management (ISM) Code to
    ensure that all senior leaders know the policies and procedures in the safety management system.

RINA Services

  • Require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during surveys, ensuring that associated systems shut down as designed and intended.
  • Review the performance of auditors who conducted either International Safety Management Code document of compliance audits at Baja Ferries or safety management certificate audits on the Caribbean Fantasy to ensure that their individual actions meet RINA Service’s rules and guidance.

International Association of Classification Societies

Encourage all member organizations to require operators to perform full function tests of quick-closing valves during surveys, ensuring that associated systems shut down as designed and intended.

Panama Maritime Authority

  • Review the performance of RINA Services, to determine if the classification society is meeting IMO guidelines.
  • Review actions taken as the flag state of the Caribbean Fantasy and revise procedures to ensure future actions meet the intent of IMO guidelines.

See more details about the incident, in the PDF herebelow