Frazer Tintern return line fuel leak causes fire is report finding

Report on ferry fire aboard "Frazer Tintern" released
Report on ferry fire aboard “Frazer Tintern” released

The Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB), the Irish government agency for investigating maritime accidents and incidents, has released its report on the ferry fire that broke out onboard the “Frazer Tintern” midway between Ballyhack, Co. Wexford and Passage East, Co. Waterford.

On the morning of 5 August 2021 a deck crewmember of the ferry “Frazer Tintern” reported to the Master that he smelled diesel fumes coming from the No.1/No.4 engine compartment. Upon further visual investigation, a diesel fuel leak was discovered where a fuel return line had become disconnected on the No.1 engine.

The engine was shut down and a phone call made to the company’s marine engineer to report the situation. As the engineer was unavailable at the time to attend the problem, the decision was taken to call out a local marine mechanic who had previously carried out repairs on the vessel.

The leak was repaired by the mechanic by refitting the return line and securing it with a hose clip and verified by the Master who ran up the engine to check the repair. The Master had worked on the vessel since its arrival in Ireland and was familiar with operating the machinery. The area around the No.1 engine compartment was cleaned by the crew with detergent and deemed free of diesel residue, as was the deck plating adjacent to the engine compartment. The engine compartment was monitored hourly by the crew and there were no further reportable events for the remainder of that morning shift.

On the evening of 5 August a strong smell of diesel fumes was noted by the Master and simultaneously by one of the deck crewmembers who called this over the radio to the wheelhouse. The same crewmember informed the Master that he was going to investigate the source of the diesel fumes by approaching the starboard machinery space access.

When the crewmember arrived at the mesh gate on the starboard side leading to the compartment of No.1/No.4 engines, he discovered smoke and flames pouring from the compartment and immediately informed the Master of the source and location of the fire. The Master immediately shut down No.1 engine and switched off the engine room fans. The fire flaps and fan shutdown for the starboard machinery space were inaccessible due to the location of the fire.

The two deck crewmembers accessed portable fire extinguishers and discharged them at the fire. The fire was knocked back and fire hoses were run out to provide boundary cooling, while the Master continued to navigate the vessel towards Passage East slipway. The machinery space fire suppression system was not operated.

The passengers were summoned to the muster station and instructed to don lifejackets that were handed out by crewmembers. The vessel docked at Passage East slipway where all passengers and vehicles were safely disembarked.

The return fuel lines on the main engines on “Frazer Tintern” were seen to be fixed using three distinct methods. The original fixing by the manufacturer was by use of spring clips, but other pipes were attached using cable ties or hose (jubilee) clips. The repair to the fuel line on the morning of the incident was made by fitting a hose clip. This may have contributed to return fuel line failure.

The extensive damage caused by the fire in a very short period indicated that a considerable amount of fuel was being released to support the fire while it was active. The fact that the fire died off quickly after No. 1 engine was shut down indicates that the fuel to the fire was being fed by mechanical means from the engine. Shutting off the fuel removed one of the sides of the fire triangle, the other two sides being the heat and air necessary for a fire to continue. Shutting the fire flaps would have restricted air flow and helped to contain the fire. Operating the quick closing fuel valves would have also stopped the fuel but would have also shut down the other main engines. The considerable amount of fuel being released was likely to have been from the fuel lift pump. Should the fuel return line be blocked off in any way the pressure regulating valve will become inoperative resulting in a significant increase in fuel pressure on the return side of the system, consequently leading to a pipe failure.

The fire suppression system for the machinery space was not operated as the Master did not want to lose all propulsion at the time and deemed it safer to complete the short run and land the passengers at Passage East, Co. Waterford.

The fire was most likely caused by a return line fuel leak on No.1 main engine providing fuel to the area. The volume and pressure of the fuel was greatly increased by the fuel return line being blocked or shut off. The ambient high temperature and swirling air flow in the vicinity assisted in the atomisation of the fuel.

The operators have stated that prior to the incident they carried out fire drills. There are no records of these being carried out or what was involved in the drills. Post incident, drills are carried out on a weekly basis with at least one of each drill (Man Overboard/Fire in Accommodation, Car Deck or Engine Room/Abandon Ship) carried out per month.

Download the report here: Frazer Tintern Report 2023

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