Miscommunication Between Captain And Firefighters Led To Spread Of Fire On A Container Vessel

Miscommunication between the captain of a container vessel and firefighters at Napier indicates that a fire on the ship got bigger than it should have.

The Singapore-registered Kota Bahagia berthing at Napier was loaded with general cargo, components, and machinery when the fire reportedly broke out on 18 December 2020.

A recent report from the Transport Accident Investigation Commission mentioned that the fire started in the ship’s cargo hold from sparks produced from work by fitters deployed by a local engineering firm.

The fire spread quickly. The crew members began fighting against the fire with their water hoses but were compelled to retreat owing to intense heat and dense smoke.

The master of the ship decided that the ideal approach would be to close the lids to the hold and suppress the fire with the carbon dioxide fire suppression system.

Fire on Ship
Image for representation purpose only

When Fire and Emergency NZ responders came to the scene, they ordered the crew ashore. Precious time was lost as the master tried to convey the tactics to the officer leading the unified command team. The master mentioned that it took 20 minutes to agree on the tactics.

As the crew members were waiting ashore, the fire strengthened and raised the risks involved with operating a crane and closing up the cargo hatch lids.

Once an agreement on tactics was reached, the crew was permitted to be back on the vessel to help fight against the fire with FENZ staff.

It is more likely that the fire would likely have been suppressed much before if the crew members had continued with the master’s initial plan.

It mentioned that the incident also highlighted the need for a complex initial engagement and the exchange of information between the emergency responders and masters.

The recommendations to FENZ by the Commission following a fire on the Kokopo Chief in Tauranga in 2017 mentioned that training and processes for ship fires needed to be updated, and an enhanced understanding between the local emergency services and visiting foreign vessels would need to be worked on.

The report further mentioned that the Kota Bahagia fire, processes, and guidance for ship fires had been updated. However, a revised training regime will need to be conducted and implemented.

It said that until the revised guidance and procedures are included in Fire and Emergency NZ’s national training program, there remained a risk of its personnel not understanding or misreading the shipboard emergency procedures and command and control roles when assisting with maritime incidents in the future.

The fire was declared extinguished on 24 December 2020. There were no injuries or fatalities, but there were extensive damages to the cargo hold and the high-value cargo.

At its peak, 12 crew members worked to get the fire under their control, which sent out large and dense smoke across the city.

Paul Turner, the FENZ national manager of response capability, mentioned that FENZ disagreed that the Fire and Emergency were to be blamed for a delay in the firefighting response.

References: Stuff, Flipboard

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