Failure Of Ship’s Alarm Led To Structural Damage


Australian Transport Safety Bureau released an investigation report focusing on a fire incident onboard a bulk carrier, that took five days to contain and extinguish, highlighting the lack of adequate regulatory requirements and standards to address the known risk of fire on-board self-unloading ships.


During cargo discharge operations while alongside at port, a fire broke out in the internal cargo handling spaces of the self-unloading (SUL) bulk carrier.The ship’s crew initiated an emergency response but shipboard efforts to control the fire were ineffective. The fire soon established itself and spread to the exterior of the ship, setting the discharge boom on deck alight. The ship’s crew were evacuated and shore firefighting services from Fire and Rescue took charge of the response to the fire.

The fire was contained and eventually extinguished about 5 days after it started. The ship sustained substantial structural damage, including breaches of two fuel oil tanks, and key components of the SUL system were largely destroyed. The ship was declared a constructive total loss and subsequently dispatched to be recycled. There were no serious injuries or pollution of the sea reported.


During investigation it is found that

  1. The fire originated in ship C-Loop space and was likely the result of a failed bearing in the ship’s conveyor system which created the heat necessary to ignite the rubber conveyor belt.
  2. It was determined that the ship did not have an emergency contingency plan for responding to fire in the ship’s SUL spaces and that there were technical failures of the ship’s alarm systems during the emergency response to the fire.
  3. Some aspects of the shipboard response likely aided the fire’s development while others increased risk by removing shipboard capability.
  4. The ATSB found that the risk of fire in ship C-Loop space was identified and documented by the ship’s operators, as being unacceptable about 5 years before the fire. This risk rating was primarily due to the absence of an effective means of fire detection and fire suppression for the SUL system spaces. 
  5. The lack of adequate regulatory requirements or standards related specifically to the fire safety of SUL ships has been a factor in several fires.
  6. The regulatory oversight of ship did not identify any deficiencies related to the safety factors identified by this investigation, or to the ship’s inherent high fire safety risk and management of that risk.
  7.  ATSB identified a safety issue related to the marine firefighting capability as well as other safety factors related to the inconsistent conduct of ship’s drills and Port’s emergency response plans.

Lesson learnt

  1. Improving fire detection and suppression technology
  2. Reviewing firefighting policy
  3. Setting minimum fire safety standards for early fire detection and suppression at the ship design and build stage
  4. Proper fire drills must be conducted onboard ship
  5. Port’s must have proper emergency response plan

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