MCIB Investigation: FV Horizon catches fire and sinks

The Irish Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has published its report on the fire and loss of “FV Horizon” off the old head of Kinsale, County Cork, which occurred on May 14th, 2021.

On 11 May 2021 at approximately 02.00 hrs a fishing vessel departed Union Hall, Co. Cork for a gill net fishing trip 30 to 50 NM south of Union Hall. There were four crew onboard and the boat was stocked with food and ice for a seven day trip. The fishing trip was uneventful, and the Skipper reported that there were no problems onboard until the time of the incident. On the evening of 13 May 2021, the vessel was fishing approximately 30 NM south southeast of the Old Head of Kinsale. There were four strings of gill nets deployed in the sea. The crew were resting in their accommodation cabin until the Skipper called them at approximately 20.50 hrs to haul the nets.

The crew got up, had tea in the galley and started hauling the nets shortly after 21.00 hrs. This activity continued for approximately three hours during which all crew were employed on deck, and no one visited the accommodation cabin or galley. At approximately 01.20 hrs the crew had just finished hauling the nets and were removing and boxing the catch. There were four nets onboard, two of which were to be deployed as soon as the vessel moved its new fishing location approximately ten to 15 minutes steaming time away. The crew sorted and boxed up the catch while the Skipper moved the boat. The Skipper briefly left the wheelhouse to tie on some fishing buoys to the outgoing net. When he returned to the wheelhouse, he noticed smoke around the accommodation cabin door in the galley. The door was just visible across the galley flat through the aft door of the wheelhouse.

The Skipper descended the three steps down into the galley flat and grabbed an extinguisher. He could see down into the accommodation cabin where there was thick smoke and tried to enter the accommodation flat via the access ladder to investigate the source of the smoke. He was able to descend a few rungs of the ladder but unable to enter the cabin or seek out the source of the fire as he was beaten back by smoke. As the Skipper withdrew from the access ladder hatchway, he closed up the accommodation door before running out to the main deck and alerting the crew. The Skipper stated that the smoke detector/fire alarm located in the deckhead of the accommodation cabin did not go off but that the smoke alarm in the galley sounded off when the smoke entered the galley space.

The Skipper directed two of the crew to release and launch the life raft and the other crewmember to gather the survival suits and emergency gear from the wheelhouse deck store and muster on the top deck while he again attempted to tackle the source of the smoke with fire extinguishers. When he opened the accommodation door he was immediately beaten back, choking with smoke which he described as dark but not with a burned “plasticky”. smell. He sensed a lot of heat and could hear the crackle of a fire below in the cabin. Overcome with the smoke the Skipper ran onto deck. He saw the life raft launched and tied its painter to the rail. The Skipper realised at this point that the fire was serious and beyond the ability of the crew to extinguish with the equipment he had onboard. He went back into the wheelhouse and made a distress ‘MAYDAY’ broadcast from the marine VHF radio. The time was 01.40 hrs and the broadcast was received by Valentia Coastguard radio who re-broadcast the ‘MAYDAY’ distress call to all ships in the vicinity.

The fire continued to grow and take hold and smoke was coming out of the galley. The Skipper had not shut down the engine although he had disengaged the clutch and the vessel was drifting. The main engine powered a deck wash sweater pump with a 1 ½ inch diameter deck wash hose which was charged, and he brought this into the wheelhouse and directed the water jet directly across the galley and down the accommodation cabin access hatchway. The Skipper recounted that he increased the main engine speed to power up the deck wash pump to its maximum operating pressure. However, fire extinguishers and the deck wash water jet were ineffectual at fighting the fire. After a couple of minutes fighting the fire and directing the water jet the Skipper again became overcome with the effects of smoke so he closed and attempted to seal the wheelhouse door leading to the galley to retard the spread of the conflagration. He estimated the time was approximately 01.50 hrs.

The Skipper recounted that the spread of the fire was “shockingly” rapid. The vessel filled with smoke, and he could see the flames of the fire quickly gaining strength. Realising the fire had spread to the galley and the firefighting water jet had proved to be ineffectual the Skipper made the decision to abandon ship and told the crew to board the life raft. The Skipper brought with him the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), Search and Rescue Radar Transponder (SART) and handheld VHF radio into the life raft. The fire had by now broken out onto the after-deck area which was now ablaze and fuelled by the plastic nets stowed onboard in the net pound and the stored gas in the LPG systems in and around the galley at the stern of the vessel. The crew manoeuvred the life raft away from the burning vessel.

The Skipper recounted that despite the vessel being ablaze, the vessel was stable and relatively upright with no visible list. The fire was melting the aluminium shelter deck and travelling along the rigging and cordage from the wheelhouse. Plastic fish boxes and floats were also on fire and the heat was intense. The Fast Rescue Craft (FRC) from the ship “Pathfinder” arrived at 02.19 hrs. The crew were taken from the life raft onto the FRC which immediately returned to the parent ship. Once onboard the ship “Pathfinder” the crew were medically checked and found to have suffered no lasting ill effects from their experience. At 03.28 hrs the crew were transferred to the Courtmacsherry Lifeboat which immediately proceeded back to Courtmacsherry to land ashore the four crewmembers.

The ship “Maersk Maker” with onboard firefighting capabilities arrived on scene at 02.30 hrs and attempted to extinguish the fire onboard the vessel. However, despite initially reducing the fire the ship reported at 02.58 hrs that the fire continued in the vessel’s after end. The ship “Maersk Maker” reported the fire was extinguished at 03.40 hrs. The vessel was monitored by the IRCG helicopter, the ship “Maersk Maker” and the naval patrol vessel “L.E. George Bernard Shaw” and reported sunk shortly before 06.49 hrs close to the position where it initially caught fire.

Conclusion

The vessel was materially fit for purpose and in a stable condition immediately prior to the incident and the vessel’s condition was not a factor in the fire and loss of “FV Horizon”.

The ignition source for the outbreak of the fire in the “FV Horizon” is not known with any certainty but it is reasonably deduced that an unattended mobile phone or other similar electronic device in the process of being charged and/or an electronic device battery charger into a 240V AC circuit in the crew accommodation cabin may have been the source of ignition for this fire and was a causative factor for the fire onboard the vessel.

The time delay (in fighting the fire) caused by the failure of the smoke detector alarm allowed the fire to take hold and spread before being spotted by the Skipper when he returned to the wheelhouse. The failure of the cabin smoke detector alarm was a causative factor in the spread of the fire onboard the vessel.

The combustible materials commonly used onboard “FV Horizon” (a wood constructed fishing vessel), particularly the amounts of LPG, oils and plastic onboard, provided adequate fuel for the fire. This enabled the fire to rapidly spread through the vessel and was a causative factor in the proliferation and extent of the fire onboard “FV Horizon”.

The exposure of the flexible plastic hose components of the vessel’s machinery cooling systems to the fire in the engine room, allowing them to melt and lose their watertight integrity, thereby allowing seawater into the vessel to the extent that “FV Horizon” filled with seawater and sunk. That was a causative factor in the sinking.

The absence of fire proofing materials in the flexible hose components of the vessel’s machinery cooling systems connecting to the through hull shipside valves allowed seawater to enter the vessel when the flexible hoses melted in the intense heat of the engine room fire. This allowed seawater to flood the vessel and was a causative factor in the sinking of “FV Horizon”.

Had the fire detection system onboard “FV Horizon” been more in-line with the more stringent requirements of the International FSS Code which requires the fire detection system to include both audible and visual fault signals, the fire in the accommodation cabin would likely have been detected earlier. However, “FV Horizon” was an “existing’ vessel” in 2007 when S.I. 640 of 2007 was promulgated. Therefore, the lesser requirements of Regulation 80(17) of S.I. 640 of 2007 applied to the fire detection system on the “FV Horizon” and only audible smoke detector alarms were fitted. The less stringent requirements of Regulation 80(17) of S.I. 640 of 2007 which applied to the vessel’s fire detection system was considered a contributory factor in the late or untimely detection of the fire in the accommodation cabin.

Two of the vessel’s crew did not have the required BIM safety training courses completed. All fishing vessel crewmembers are required to undergo basic safety training as per S.I. 587 of 2001 which is required for any crew who have radio communication duties onboard vessels fitted with GMDSS equipment. GMDSS Radio Operators Certificate is a marine radio ROC.

Click to download the report: MCIB FV Horizon Report

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