Poor firefighting system and lack of crew training lead to PeeJay V sinking

The PeeJay V. Image courtesy of TAIC
The PeeJay V. Image courtesy of TAIC

In January 2016, the passenger vessel PeeJay V caught fire and sank. The reason was due to an ineffective main firefighting system and crew who did not fully understand how it should work. New Zealand’s TAIC has published its report on the incident highlighting that for a CO2 firefighting system to be useful, the space must be airtight and everyone involved should be fully trained and know how the system works.

The incident
On 18 January 2016, the tourist boat was on an all-day excursion from Whakatane to White Island with 53 passengers and seven crew on board. It was near the end of the journey, approaching Whakatane Harbour entrance when fire broke out in the engine room. The crew released the fixed CO2 fire extinguisher into the engine room, which suppressed the fire for a short time. However, the fire quickly escalated, forcing the skipper to order everyone to abandon the vessel. Several passengers were forced to enter the water without a life-jacket. The Pee Jay V burned to the waterline and sank. Vessels in the vicinity responded to the skipper’s distress call, and everyone was rescued. Other than one crew member suffering smoke inhalation, nobody was seriously injured.

– The absence of a fire alarm system meant the crew had limited opportunity to respond to the fire and prepare life-saving equipment.
– The CO2 fire suppression system (which works by displacing air with CO2) was ineffective because there were openings that allowed air into the engine room.
– Life-saving apparel and equipment appropriately placed, but could not all be accessed. Operators of smaller vessels often struggle to choose where to locate such equipment.

Safety Issues
– Maritime Rules did not require the PeeJay V to have fire detection or automatic fire alarms installed even though it could carry up to 90 passengers and operate up to 12 nautical miles from the coast
– The CO2 fixed fire-fighting system installed in the engine room could not be fully effective in extinguishing the fire because the space it was protecting could not be fully closed down
– The builder and operators of the vessel did not fully appreciate the principles of how the CO2 fixed fire-fighting system operated.

Maritime NZ has responded positively to the two recommendations in this report, agreeing to:
– Review the maritime rules about fire alarms and remote extinguishers in vessels of this type with enclosed engine spaces.
– Encourage people who design, install and use CO2 fixed fire-fighting systems to fully document and understand how these systems work.

Lessons Learned
As a result from the inquiry, TAIC cites three key lessons:
– Early detection of fire on a vessel is critical to a successful fire-fighting response and for the early preparation of life-saving apparel and equipment
– A fire fighting systems is useful only if the crew is fully familiar with it and trained in its use.
– A fixed CO2 fire-fighting apparatus will be effective only if the design of the space it protects can be fully closed off.

Read the Maritime NZ report in full:
Explore more here below: TAIC Report PeeJay V Fire and Sinking

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