Bulk Carrier Fire: Emergency Response Ineffective
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its analysis of the engine room fire on the bulk carrier Marigold, citing problems with the ship’s Halon fire suppression system and the port’s emergency response.
The incident occurred at about 1447 on 13 July, 2014. A fire started in the engine room of the bulk carrier while it was loading a cargo of iron ore in Port Hedland, Western Australia.
The ATSB determined that the fire began on Marigold’s number one generator after a fuel oil pipe fitting on it failed. The resulting spray of fuel oil likely contacted a hot surface on the generator and ignited. The compression fitting that failed had been used to connect a replacement pressure gauge that had a different pipe connection fitting size to the original pressure gauge.
Firefighting by the ship’s crew included activating the Halon gas fixed fire suppression system for the engine room. However, a full release of Halon gas did not occur, nor was the engine room effectively sealed. Consequently, the fire continued for about 12 hours until it burnt itself out.
Marigold’s shipboard procedures for crew induction, familiarisation, fire drills and safety training were not effectively implemented. As a result, the ship’s senior officers were not sufficiently familiar with the Halon system’s operation. They did not identify its partial failure and did not activate the override function.
Failures within the Halon system and multiple failures of the ventilation closing mechanisms were indicative of a lack of effective planned maintenance on board.
Contrary to the ship’s procedures and accepted safe practice, some crewmembers used the lift to evacuate the engine room after the fire started.
The port’s emergency response plan was initiated, but there were misunderstandings between the agencies involved as to the roles of the others during the initial stages of the incident and response. Their emergency plans did not refer to trigger points for transfer of control or include detailed instructions of how to hand over control during an incident.
Port Hedland’s emergency response teams did not use the ship’s international shore fire connection. As a result, Marigold’s fire main was not pressurised with water from ashore.
Suitable atmospheric testing equipment was not available in Port Hedland to ensure safe entry to fire-affected spaces on board Marigold. Access to these areas was not controlled until 53 hours after the fire.
The report is available here.