Marine safety concerns about firefighting capabilities at Canadian ports raised in report

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has released its investigation report regarding a fire incident that occurred aboard a bulk carrier near Windsor, Ontario in 2019. The TSB said the report raises a board safety concern regarding firefighting resources at some Canadian harbours and ports.

On December 15, 2019, a fire ignited in the engine room of the bulk carrier Tecumseh while it was transiting the Detroit River off Windsor, Ontario with 16 crew members on board. The crew attempted to extinguish the fire with the CO2 fixed fire suppression system. The investigation found that the onboard fire originated following the failure of a flexible fuel hose assembly supplying fuel to the ship’s port main engine.

Approximately three hours after the fire suppression system was activated, two crewmembers entered the engine room to determine if the fire was still spreading. The TSB said this re-entry allowed fresh air to enter the engine room, which most likely re-ignited the fire.

In the early hours (local time) of the said date, the vessel was towed to the Port of Windsor for firefighting assistance. However, the onshore resources were not trained in marine firefighting and therefore were not able to provide onboard assistance. As a consequence, these responders remained on shore providing shore-based boundary cooling while awaiting the arrivial of marine trained firefighters, who arrived approximately two hours later. The fire was subsequently extinguished later that same day.

The TSB said it is concerned that some Canadian ports and harbour authorities may lack the proper equipment, training, and resources to respond effectively to shipboard fires occurring within their jurisdiction, which could result in fires that endanger crews, the general public, property, and the environment.

The investigation also identified a number of shortcomings within the operator’s safety management system with regard to fire response including:
– that the fire training manual on board was not specific to the vessel, and so vessel-specific information was not available for use in training on actual equipment on board, such as the CO2 system; and
– there was no emergency preparedness plan on board to guide the crew in the fire response actions, such as when to close the ventilation flaps and dampers.

The investigation also found that the operator’s safety management system had no guidance with respect to documentation, testing, or inspection and maintenance schedules to ensure that the fuel hose assemblies on the main engines were of adequate integrity and remained in working condition. Although a classification survey had been conducted on the vessel 24 days prior to the occurrence, the survey had not identified any issues with the fuel hose assemblies despite a class rule requiring that these assemblies be prototype-tested. The investigation also noted that there were several regulatory non-compliances on board the vessel, including those related to structural integrity.

Following this occurrence, vessel owner Lower Lakes Towing reminded masters and senior officers that in the absence of exceptional circumstances, no attempt to re-enter the engine room or other action that could compromise the airtightness of the sealed engine room should be made once CO2 is released, until after the temperature drops below the auto-ignition point.

Regarding maintenance, the company also changed the software used for maintenance planning and tracking. It also appointed third-party auditors for each vessel to look at the planned maintenance system, policies and procedures, regulatory and environmental procedures, and training requirements.

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