Ireland’s Marine Casualty Investigation Board (MCIB) has released its investigation report on the fire and loss of MFV Suzanne II, east of Arklow, in May 2019. While the exact source of the fire is unknown, the report highlights that the quick response of the crew and their knowledge on when to abandon ship was key to their successful rescue.
On 2 May 2019 the MFV Suzanne II, a fishing vessel, was stopped 30 nautical miles east of Arklow and the crew were taking a break between fishing activities when a crew member observed smoke coming from an engine room vent. The skipper went to investigate the source of the smoke and soon realised that there was a serious fire in the engine room.
He made an attempt to fight the fire but the level of smoke hampered his efforts. The smoke and fire very quickly engulfed the vessel’s accommodation and wheel house. The crew retrieved the vessel’s Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and abandoned ship to an inflatable life raft.
A passing angling vessel sighted the smoke from the burning MFV Suzanne II and proceeded in the direction to investigate. Arriving on-scene, the angling vessel recovered the three crew members from their life raft. Shortly after, the Irish Coast Guard rescue helicopter R117 arrived and lowered a paramedic to assess the crew from the fishing vessel.
A short time later, a tug boat with fire fighting capabilities arrived on-scene and commenced fighting the fire onboard the fishing vessel. The vessel continued to burn before eventually sinking.
The source of the fire on the MFV Suzanne II is unknown. It started in the engine room and rapidly got out of control. Once the fire was well established it engulfed the vessel and being of timber construction it continued to fuel the fire until the entire vessel was ablaze.
Had it been possible to contain the fire by closing dampers and access hatches this might have starved the fire of oxygen and allowed the crew more time in preparing to abandon the vessel. It is, however, unlikely that a fire of this ferocity could have been fully contained and extinguished by the vessel’s crew.
Whether the fire detection system did sound but was not heard or whether it failed to alert the crew is unknown. Most likely the fire detection system did not sound as it is improbable that it would not have been heard. Not sounding could have been due to a recent defect or a longer standing one that would have been picked up if there was a monthly check, or damaged by the fire itself before it could sound. There is no record as to when the system was last tested or inspected as the vessel’s onboard records were lost in the incident. Regulations (S.I. 640 0f 2007) state the following: ‘131. (a) Inspections of the life-saving equipment and fire appliances shall be made at intervals of not more than one month.’ It is a requirement under the Regulations to carry out monthly inspections. The fire detection system functioning properly and sounding would have given the crew earlier warning of the fire and possibly have enabled a more effective effort at fighting the fire.
The crew were quick to investigate the fire and determine it was out of control. It is the key to a successful rescue to know when to abandon ship. The abandon ship procedure was carried out successfully.
The EPIRB activation facilitated notification to the Coast Guard who quickly activated an emergency response.
The damage caused by a fire burning for this duration and the tug’s continued attempt at fire fighting resulted in a loss of buoyancy and the eventual sinking of the fishing vessel. The incident occurred in daylight and the weather conditions at the time were very favourable. This facilitated a successful launch of the life raft and the subsequent transfer of the crew to the passing angling vessel. Had the incident occurred at night or in more adverse weather conditions the outcome may have been very different.
MCIB advised the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to issue a Marine Notice reminding owners, skippers, officers and crews of fishing vessels of the following:
– the requirement for all crew to have basic safety training as per S.I. 587 of 2001.
– their obligations as per S.I. 640 of 2007 with emphasis on ensuring that fire alarms are regularly tested and maintained in an operational condition. The Marine Notice should include guidance on the inspection and testing of fire detection systems onboard fishing vessels of 15-24 metres in length.
The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport should review Actions No. 9 and No. 29 of the Maritime Safety Strategy in relation to their implementation and specifically for pre-2007 fishing vessels in relation to the matters raised in this report.