Thursday, March 17, 2011

Lessons Learned—A Research Vessel’s Destructive Fire—Part 2

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council magazine. Read Part I here.

Fire Investigation Survey
Investigators focused on the pipes in the dry storage room, which were part of the thruster exhaust piping loop, eventually discharging through the port hull in the thruster room.

During the examination of the fire scene, as debris was removed, investigators observed:

“… the remains of a mattress was found leaning against the bow thruster forward
exhaust pipe insulating blanket. All of the covering and filler material in the
mattress was consumed. Removal of debris from the floor area around the
starboard side of the forward bow thruster exhaust pipe uncovered the burned
remains of cardboard and paper product in the vicinity of the steel doubler
plate ring on the floor.”

Combustible Materials, Auto-Ignition
Investigators determined that a cotton mattress would have an auto-ignition temperature range between 490ºF and 750ºF. Once they determined that the bow thruster engine exhaust temperatures can reach up to 900ºF, investigators concluded that the fire was most likely caused by heat coming from the bow thruster engine exhaust pipes, which ignited nearby combustible items.

A Cautionary Tale
Though thankfully there were no lives lost as a result of this incident, the potential for tragedy was immense due to the explosive divers’ tanks, chemicals, and loaded fuel tanks on the vessel. In a stroke of luck, a crewmember happened to be walking by the area, allowing him to discover the fire in time to allow all crew and passengers to abandon ship.

We hope that the lessons learned from this casualty investigation will remind owners, operators, and crewmembers of the importance of proper storage of consumables and other combustible materials and to closely inspect their vessels for similar hazards.

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