Australian operators with fixed gas LPG systems must be aware of appliances listed on the installation compliance plate

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has released details of an investigation into an incident where the owner and their son were seriously injured in an explosion in the galley of their houseboat due to the stove ignitor igniting a gas leak.

On 30 June 2021, a class 4E domestic commercial vessel houseboat used for recreational purposes was at anchor in the backchannel of a Northern NSW river. The owner and their son were onboard and the owner was preparing dinner in the galley at the starboard aft end of the main cabin.

The owner attempted to light a gas-powered stove by a piezo ignition switch when a blast explosion took place causing catastrophic damage to the vessel structure and fittings. The owner and their son self-rescued and administered first aid while waiting for assistance from emergency services. Ambulance paramedics transported the two individuals to hospital for treatment. The owner was later transferred to a burns unit to receive specialist treatment having received burns to 25% of their body.

Probable cause

As part of the investigation, a licensed gasfitter plumber inspected the fixed gas system onboard and found it to be not in compliance with the requirements of Gas Supply (Consumer Safety) Regulation 2012, for the following reasons:
– Gas appliances as indicated on the compliance plate were not installed.
– Where a gas appliance was not fitted, the connection point was not sufficiently capped to prevent a gas leak.
– A gas detector was not observed on the vessel.
– Propane gas was most likely the cause of a flammable gas air mixture within the vessel
– A faulty gas isolation valve leaking through an open outlet within the kitchen cabinetry was likely the source of uncontrolled gas escape.
– The source of ignition was the piezo ignition switch on the gas cooktop/stove operated by the owner in the moment before the explosion.

Lessons learned

Domestic commercial vessel owners with vessels housing fixed gas LPG systems onboard must have knowledge of, and visually check, the appliances listed on the installation compliance plate. Where appliances have been disconnected from the system, re-certification by a licensed gasfitter is required.

The investigation uncovered partial evidence that an LPG cylinder was being stowed inside the cabin of the vessel and the potential contribution of this to the uncontrolled build-up of propane gas could not be ruled out. Owners are reminded to carefully consider the risks associated with the stowage location of LPG cylinders.

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