Towel Was Stuffed Into The Duct Caused Fire


A survey vessel crew member was settling back into his cabin after a period of leave. Shortly after turning up the temperature on the cabin thermostat he noticed a faint burning smell and reported it to the duty engineer. 


After a brief discussion and check of the cabin, the crew member and duty engineer decided that the smell probably originated from someone vaping on an outside deck. The crew member left the cabin for a little while, but when he returned he noticed smoke coming out of a ventilation duct. He raised the alarm and shut the cabin door as he left. The ship’s emergency response team mustered and entered the cabin once the electrical supply and ventilation system was isolated. 


They discovered a fire in the ventilation duct and tackled it with a water fire extinguisher. The emergency response team removed the cabin ceiling panels and confirmed that the fire was out (Figure 1).

The shipping company conducted an internal investigation and found that a passenger had previously used the cabin and stuffed a towel into the ventilation duct to prevent a cold air draught (Figure 2). The towel caught fire when the ventilation duct’s automatic heating element turned itself on.


The company reported that a similar incident had occurred on the same ship approximately eight years before, the details of which were shared fleetwide. Safety signs were installed in the cabins, providing occupants with guidance on how to immediately report defects. The vessel was recently sold and no known cabin ventilation system modifications have been undertaken.

Observe → Fairly innocuous actions can lead to potentially dangerous scenarios. Ship’s crew are reminded to be vigilant for ad hoc alterations to cabin fixtures and fittings. 

Revise → It is important to learn lessons from previous incidents and take action to improve safety. In this case, had a simple modification to the cabin ventilation duct been made after the previous incident it might have prevented the passenger from placing a towel in the duct and inadvertently causing a fire.

Action → Good emergency preparedness and swift action by the emergency response team prevented this becoming a major incident; well-trained crews are good news.

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Source: MAIB


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