Fishing Vessel Fire: Problems with Safety Standards and Crew Efforts
The New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) has released its report into the accommodation fire on board fishing trawler Dong Won 701 in April 2018, citing issues with the structure of the vessel and crew firefighting efforts.
The fire started in the vicinity of a rubbish bin next to the desk in the First Engineer’s cabin on the officers’ deck while the vessel was moored at the port of Timaru. Crew tried but couldn’t put out the fire. The fire eventually took eight days for Fire and Emergency NZ to extinguish, and destroyed the accommodation structure on the vessel.
Three crew members and one NZ firefighter received hospital treatment for smoke inhalation.
Due to the intensity and duration of the fire and the consequent damage, it was not possible to determine conclusively the cause of the fire.
The TAIC report states that the fire spread quickly because the automatic fire alarm did not trigger, and the materials used in the construction of the accommodations space caught fire easily. The structural fire integrity of the Dong Won 701, although complying with the relevant Maritime Rule, did not meet contemporary standards, and this was a factor in the speed and intensity with which the fire spread.
When eventually the crew discovered the fire, they did not sound the alarm and their firefighting was inefficient, uncoordinated and did not follow good industry practice. However, the report notes that only nine of the 44 crew members were on board to initially contain and fight the fire.
A deck officer took a portable fire extinguisher to the first engineer’s cabin and together with the engine room rating attempted to fight the fire. However, hampered by smoke they retreated down the
passageway through an exit door to an open deck at the back of the accommodation space. They left both the first engineer’s cabin door and the exit door to the outside deck open, because they thought this would help clear smoke from the cabin and passageway.
The crew attempted to rig a ship’s fire hose to fight the fire, but could not pressurize the fire hose because they were unable to get the emergency fire pump to deliver water.
The crew responsible for testing the fire alarm system explained that the fire alarms were “tested,” but they were unable to describe anything that resembled a routine regime for checking that all components of the fire alarm system were functional.
TAIC recommends that ship crews routinely test safety-critical systems such as fire detection and alarm systems to ensure they work properly. On discovering a fire, use the ship’s general alarm to quickly alert crew, and to prevent a fire spreading, close all openings that can allow air to feed or be drawn into the location of the fire.
Out of 63 New Zealand-flagged fishing ships operating in New Zealand waters:
• Inconsistencies in the application of Rule 40D may have resulted in up to 12 fishing vessels operating under the New Zealand Flag not complying fully with the relevant safety standards.
• A further 50 fishing vessels have been afforded grandfather rights that will allow them to operate indefinitely without meeting contemporary safety standards under the current Maritime Rules.
• If a vessel’s structural fire protection does not meet current minimum standards, a fire may spread more quickly. On such a vessel, the crew may not be as safe as they would be on a newer vessel constructed to newer standards.
TAIC recommends that Maritime NZ do what they can to make post-2004 fishing vessels comply with as many of the Rule 40D design, construction and equipment standards as is reasonable and practicable. It also recommends that Maritime NZ and the Ministry of Transport together amend Rule 40D to so that aging fishing vessels cannot operate forever without having to meet contemporary safety standards.
The report is available here.