The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released an accident report about the outbreak of fire onboard the towing vessel Thomas Dann that led to a constructive total loss.
On July 22, 2016, at 1700 local time, a fire broke out in the upper engine room aboard the towing vessel Thomas Dann while it was engaged in towing operations offshore near St. Augustine, Florida, en route to Cape Canaveral, Florida. No one was injured, nor was any pollution reported. However, due to the extent of the fire damage, the vessel, which was valued at an estimated $2.5 million, was declared a constructive total loss.
At 1700 on July 22, a fire alarm for the upper engine room activated on the wheelhouse panel. The mate, who was at the helm, tried to reset the alarm and verify whether it activated falsely, but the alarm continued to alert. Moments later, one of the deckhands yelled up to the wheelhouse about seeing smoke.
The captain, who was off duty and resting in his stateroom when the alarm activated, went to the wheelhouse. Within a minute of his arrival there, the rest of the crew arrived with lifejackets and immersion suits in hand. The captain instructed the mate to take a radio and investigate the fire in the space. The mate was away for only a minute or two before reporting that the space was inaccessible and to get an extinguisher or start the firepump due to the severity of the smoke. In the meantime, the captain radioed the US Coast Guard and, while he was on the call, the mate returned with smoke following him into the wheelhouse.
The fire had spread to the dining room, galley, and several staterooms located on the main deck. The captain attempted to slow the vessel and maneuver in a way to prevent barge EMI-1152 from overruning them as well as prevent the fire and smoke emanating from the upper engine room from being carried aft. However, within the first minute or so of this attempt, the vessel lost power. According to their interviews, the crew members did not attempt to fight the fire because of how quickly it grew in heat and intensity.
The captain informed the Coast Guard that the vessel was on fire and provided its position. He then instructed the mate to start closing vents. The mate (assisted by both deckhands) reported that he could get only the starboard vent covered due to the extent of the fire. The crewmembers decided to get the liferaft into the water. In preparation, they removed the raft canister from the side of the vessel and brought it around to the bow. There, they secured the canister to the railing, but no one abandoned the vessel at that time, nor did they inflate the raft.
With the vessel now dead in the water, the captain was worried about the fire and smoke engulfing the entire vessel and crew. He gave the order to abandon ship, which the crewmembers followed. They inflated and boarded the liferaft and then manuevered away from the Thomas Dann to escape the extreme heat and explosions occurring aboard the vessel.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire aboard towing vessel Thomas Dann was an ignition originating near an electrical fuse box in the upper engine room. Contributing to the intensity of the fire was the presence of combustible materials in the upper engine room.
Read the more detailed report: NTSB-Fire-aboard-Thomas-Dann