Engine failures caused devastating fires on board two towing vessels within a five-month period in the US
US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) published reports in late January 2021 on its investigation into two towing vessel fires on US inland waterways and shipyards, which caused more than US$3.3M of damage. Both were caused by engine failures and gutted the enginerooms on these two vessels.
In response, NTSB warned owners and operators to ensure equipment and procedures are in place to quickly contain and suppress engineroom fires, before they can spread to other spaces and cause propulsion and power loss.
NTSB investigated the fire on 1983-built tugboat City of Cleveland on 26 February 2020. This accident occurred as the Jantran Inc-owned 46.2-m vessel was pushing 18 dry cargo barges upbound on the Lower Mississippi River. The convoy, including 15 loaded barges, was 24 km south of Natchez, Mississippi when the vessel suffered a main engine failure followed by an engineroom fire. All nine crewmembers were safely evacuated to the barges and were rescued by nearby vessels, which worked to extinguish the fire, said NTSB.
City of Cleveland was later towed to the operator’s facility in Rosedale, Mississippi. No pollution or injuries were reported, but damage to the vessel was estimated at US$2M.
In its accident report, NTSB said the probable cause of the fire “was the catastrophic failure and crankcase breach of the port main engine resulting from the failure of a connecting rod assembly”. It continued, “Contributing to the severity of damage to the vessel was the lack of a fixed fire-extinguishing system for the engineroom and the loss of electrical power to the single fire pump.
NTSB also published its report into the fire on 1963-built towing vessel Susan Lynn on 8 October 2019. This vessel is owned by H&K Marine Services and operated by Four Rivers Towing. It was docked and in layup status at Tom’s Marine & Salvage yard on the Barataria Waterway in Lafitte, Louisiana, when a fire started in the engineroom. Local firefighters extinguished the fire, which caused damage valued at US$1.35M, but no pollution or injuries, with only one watchman on board at the time.
NTSB investigated the fire and determined its cause was “a catastrophic engine failure resulting in an oil reservoir breach”.
The ensuing fire on Susan Lynn was initiated by ejected lube oil igniting off a hot surface. “Contributing to the extent of the fire were the open engineroom doors and the unsecured fuel shut-off valves,” NTSB said.
NTSB provided further safety recommendations within these accident reports. It reminded owners, operators and managers how enginerooms contain multiple fuel and ignition sources, making these spaces especially vulnerable to rapidly spreading fires. NTSB guided designers and operators of towing vessels to evaluate fire hazards and provide effective means to mitigate them.
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