UK MAIB’s latest Safety Digest provides lessons learned from an incident, where smoke and flames were observed onboard a high-speed river ferry.
high-speed river ferry was on passage back to the company’s pontoons after a period of maintenance. There were no passengers on board, just the master and two crew. During the passage, the fire alarm sounded for the starboard engine compartment; the master monitored the closed-circuit television (CCTV) and after a few moments saw smoke and then flames.
The master and crew followed the emergency procedure for an engine fire: the engine was shutdown, the compartment was sealed off, and the fixed carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishing system was initiated. The master assessed that the situation was under control and informed the port authority of his intention to continue to the intended berth, with a request for the local fire brigade to meet the ferry on arrival. The master continued on passage with one engine in use and the crew monitored the bulkhead and deckhead temperatures around the compartment; water hoses were prepared for boundary cooling although this was not judged necessary.
Once the ferry was berthed, the local fire and rescue service boarded the vessel to take charge of the situation. Without liaising with the crew, one of the fire officers opened the access hatch to the starboard engine, causing rapid reignition of the fire with significant flames and smoke emanating from the compartment. This forced the fire and rescue team to retreat to gather their firefighting equipment and the fire was eventually extinguished by completely flooding the compartment with water. The reignition of the fire caused severe damage (Figure 3) to the engine and the starboard engine compartment, requiring extensive repairs.
#1 Action: The master and crew took the appropriate actions in this situation. The closing down of the engine compartment and timely use of the fixed firefighting system stopped the fire from spreading further and reduced the flames. Hotspot monitoring of the compartment by the crew ensured that they were prepared to react to any change to the situation. The engine compartment needed to remain sealed until the deckheads achieved an ambient external temperature. The master also made the appropriate calls to the local authorities, ensuring that assistance would be on hand when the ferry arrived alongside.
#2 Communication: The local fire brigade inadvertently reignited the fire by opening the access hatch. This was inappropriate as the situation was under control and the correct action would have been to leave the compartment sealed until the deckhead temperature had fallen to ambient level. The master remains responsible for the vessel and communication is vital to build a clear picture of the situation. The fire officer’s actions were well meaning; however, the outcome was avoidable damage to the vessel.