The release of the Malta’s Marine Safety Investigation Unit (MSIU) report into the fire onboard MY Siempre has once again brought the subject of Lithium-ion batteries into sharp focus. The report says that it can’t exclude the fact that the Lithium-ion batteries on board were either the cause of the fire, and/or a contributing factor to the intensity and spread of the fire. Neither can it exclude the possibility that the fire may have started due to a short circuit in the electrical power socket of the yacht’s water scooter.
On 6 September 2021, at 1.28am, the CCTV camera captured smoke escaping from Siempre’s aft deck, soon followed by intermittent bright flashes, resembling open flames. This caught the attention of the crew members of a neighbouring yacht (MY Blue Vision), who were on the dock at that time.
On approaching to have a closer look, they noticed a fire developing in the vicinity of Siempre’s water scooter, which was housed on the aft deck.
They stated that the fire soon spread across the aft deck and that they observed that within seconds, the flames reached a height of between 2m and 2.5m.
At 1.30am, one of Blue Vision’s crew members reported the fire to the master and chief officer. The chief officer rushed ashore and telephoned the emergency services of the port.
In the meantime, the crew of Siempre, who were asleep in the cabins, was alerted by the yacht’s fire alarm. The chief engineer ran up the interior stairway to investigate and, on reaching the saloon on the main deck, he observed a large fire on the aft deck. He ran back to the crew’s accommodation and instructed the rest of the crew members to vacate the accommodation area through the escape hatches on the yacht’s bow.
The chief engineer then connected a fire hose and started the fire pump from the bridge to extinguish the fire.
At 1.36am, on seeing Siempre’s crew members on the bow, the master of Blue Vision instructed his chief officer and deckhand to take their tender boat to Siempre’s bow to assist in the evacuation of the crew members.
The tender boat was by Siempre’s bow after three minutes and stood by for the evacuation. During this time, the crew members of Yacht B were also alerted of the fire. They unmoored their yacht and immediately manoeuvred it away from Siempre. At 1.39am, the crew members of Yacht A started their fire pump and directed their fire hoses toward Siempre.
Meanwhile, while the chief engineer continued with his attempts to extinguish the fire, the fire raged on Siempre’s aft deck, also reaching the water scooter and tender boat.
At around 1.50am, a shore fire brigade arrived and joined in the fire fighting. By this time, observers noticed that the fire had spread and reached the bridge deck. Moments later, all four crew members of Siempre jumped into the water from the bow. They were picked up by Blue Vision’s tender boat and brought safely to the pier beside Blue Vision, at 1.55am. The crew members of Blue Vision recalled that Siempre was completely engulfed by the fire by 2.30am. At 3.46am, the flames were seen to be receding.
The shore fire brigade continued to fight the remaining flames, using water and foam. Subsequently, Siempre started to develop a port list. At around 7.30am, while the shore fire brigade was still fighting the fire, Siempre listed over to its port side. However, for the following two days, several interventions were still required by the shore fire brigade to tackle emerging flames and smoke from parts of the yacht that were above the water level.
1. It was not excluded that the Li-ion batteries on board were either the cause of the fire, and / or a contributing factor to the intensity and spread of the fire.
2. The safety investigation did not exclude the possibility that the fire may have started due to a short circuit in the electrical power socket of the yacht’s water scooter.
3. The yacht most probably lost its stability and eventually listed to port side as a result of the water from the fire-fighting activity.
4. The fire continued intermittently for two days after the accident, even with the yacht partially submerged.
5. The retention on board of a dead battery suggested that there was not full awareness of related fire hazards.
Download the full report: MY Siempre: Final Safety Investigation Report