Engine Room Fires Highlight the Need For Preventative Measures

Fire engulfed the wheelhouse of the F/V NOBSKA so quickly that the crew had no chance to broadcast a mayday call. Thankfully, a crewmember was able to activate the EPIRB before deploying the life raft at the stern of the 99-foot fishing trawler.

When Coast Guard aircraft arrived an hour later, the ship was consumed in flames. All five crew members were safely rescued, but the fire burned for two more days before the vessel could be towed in for assessment. The total loss was estimated at $2.4 million.

And they were lucky. A fire that spread so swiftly and burned with such ferocity could have easily proven fatal.

Hydraulic Hoses Cited as Probable Cause

The crew of the stern trawler was fishing for haddock on the last day of April in 2021 when they noticed a small fire on the exhaust pipe from the main engine. They quickly extinguished the blaze and investigated to find the source. They found a ruptured hydraulic hose in the pipe/hose tunnel leading from the engine room to the wheelhouse. After replacing the hose, they resumed fishing for another four hours.

As they prepared to haul back, the captain spotted thick black smoke pouring out from under the console in the wheelhouse. Just after he stepped out to warn the crew, flames swept through the wheelhouse and spread rapidly throughout the forward section of the vessel. The few fire extinguishers that remained accessible proved useless against the inferno.

Fortunately, the crew were able to position themselves for rescue without serious physical harm.

After extensive investigation, the National Transportation Safety Board(NTSB) concluded that the second fire was also probably caused by a leak in a hydraulic hose in the engine room. The earlier fire may have damaged the hose and caused it to fail.

Lack of Proper Safety Barriers Contributed to the Severity of the Fire

The NTSB noted in their report that the pipe/hose tunnel on the F/V NOBSKA lacked insulation, fire stops, or any type of barrier that would have prevented heat, fire, and smoke from flowing up the tunnel. Without this structural fire protection, the vertical tunnel provided a direct pathway for the fire to spread beyond the engine room.

The agency issued a warning to mariners to prevent potentially deadly fires in the future. “Vessel owners and operators” they noted, “should identify such openings between decks and ensure they are structurally fire protected to prevent the spread of a fire.”

Lessons from the Nobska Fire

Just a week before the disastrous blaze, a routine survey of the F/V NOBSKA revealed none of the problems with the hydraulic hoses. The engine room was described as “well maintained” and clean and hydraulic equipment was reported as being in “excellent working order.”

What this report shows is that inspections are not enough. Owners and operators need to take preventative safety measures such as installing pipe/cable stops or other forms of structural fire protection. Had these protective barriers been in place on the F/V NOBSKA, the fire could have been contained. Further, proper maintenance, repair and replacement of hydraulic hoses and pipes are encouraged in order to prevent future fires on vessels.

Crew members on other vessels have not been as lucky and suffered serious or fatal burns as a result.

Maritime Attorneys Help Workers Recover for Injuries at Sea

Latti & Anderson previously recovered $8 million for the family of a merchant seaman who lost his life and was burned over 100% of his body when a engine pipe containing pressurized oil cracked and sprayed oil on the engine causing a massive fire in the engine room.

When workers suffer injuries that could have been prevented with proper equipment, maintenance, repair or action, the experienced team of maritime attorneys at Latti & Anderson is ready to help. If you or a loved one want to discuss your options after an injury, call us today for a confidential consultation.