Workboats and tugs need remote emergency engine shutdown devices in the wheelhouse to provide redundancy and back-up in the event of a fire.
This was one of the key findings from the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)’s investigation into a fire that gutted a towboat in Alabama.
NTSB recommended that alternative emergency shutdowns should be located outside the engineroom to prevent fires from intensifying.
The engineroom fire destroyed towing vessel JW Herron on 13 December 2017. This fire at Big Bayou Canot, Twelvemile Island, near Mobile, caused US$1.5M damage to the 1967-built vessel.
The vessel was owned by Graestone Logistics and operated by Four Rivers Towing. JW Herron had two GM 12-645 EMD diesel engines that each produced 1,120 kW of power.
NTSB determined that the probable cause of the engineroom fire was “leaking lube oil from a propulsion diesel engine hose or tubing fitting that was ignited off an exposed hot engine surface or slipping clutch.”
Investigators discovered that the location of the emergency engine shutdowns and fuel supply shutoffs were near the exterior engineroom doors, which proved to be inaccessible. This contributed to the severity of the fire, as did the inability to secure ventilation to the engineroom.
As a result of this accident, NTSB recommended that “the accessibility of these shutdowns and controls should be evaluated during fire-response planning” and that “alternative remote emergency shutdown locations, such as the wheelhouse, should be considered for redundancy”.
There should be quick-closing valves for fuel and lube oil systems, remote stops for ventilation fans, engine stops and fire pump start controls. These need to be accessible during a fire.
NTSB said "On smaller vessels, the risk to crews fighting engineroom fires has led to the development of designs that incorporate both a means for securing ventilation to the engineroom and a fire suppression system, such as a fixed CO2 system, to extinguish the fire without requiring crews to enter the space."
Another thought to consider is the competence of engineering crew to act rapidly in an emergency, and not have their situational awareness impaired. NTSB investigators found that one of the engineers on JW Herron tested positive for the recreational drug methamphetamine, although there was no evidence that this impaired his behaviour or decision-making ability.
However, NTSB warned “Any drug use by a crew member poses a safety hazard while on board a vessel.”
To access the full NTSB report into the accident, please use this link.
Engineroom safety on US vessels will be covered at Riviera Maritime Media's Americas Sulphur Cap 2020 Conference, to be held in Houston, Texas, in March