St Clair: Engine room fire on bulk carrier while in layup status report published

St Clair - Photo courtesy of duluthshippingnews.com
St Clair – Photo courtesy of duluthshippingnews.com

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has published an investigation report on the engine room fire aboard the bulk carrier St Clair whilst in layup status at TORCO dock in Maumee River, Toledo, in February 2019. The investigation has highlighted a lack of operating procedures for continuous monitoring of the vessel while in layup.

About 2010 local time on February 16, 2019, a fire was reported on the bulk carrier St Clair while the vessel was laid-up for the winter at the CSX TORCO Iron Ore Terminal (TORCO dock) at the mouth of the Maumee River in Toledo, Ohio. No one was onboard. The fire was extinguished approximately 36 hours later by shoreside firefighters. There were neither pollution nor injuries. The estimated property damage exceeded $150 million.

Probable cause
NTSB has determined the probable cause of the fire onboard the St Clair was the ignition of combustible material in the vicinity of an engine room workshop, likely due to the use of portable space heaters or smouldering smoking materials, which spread to other areas of the vessel. Contributing to the extent of the fire damage was the lack of operating procedures for continuous active monitoring of the vessel while in layup status.

Analysis
Although an employee identified smoke within the engine room, he assumed it was residual smoke from the hot work that occurred in the no. 6 port ballast tank and therefore did not investigate it further. This smoke was most likely emitting from a smoldering hotspot, possibly from a burning piece of wood or trash, which eventually developed into the fire that severely damaged the vessel. By turning on the starboard exhaust fan in an effort to remove the smoke, and leaving it on when he departed at 1800, the movement of air within the engine room may have assisted with accelerating the growth of the smoldering hotspot into a fire.

With no company policy or procedure requiring continuous active monitoring of the vessel while it was in layup status, the fire was able to expand for approximately 3 hours before the fire department arrived. Since most watertight doors and access manhole covers to ballast tanks remained open, there was nothing in place to stop or hinder the passage of smoke and fire.

While there was extensive damage throughout the engine room, the fire pattern and damage on the lower level noted by NTSB investigators indicated that the fire did not start within or by the no. 6 port ballast tank where the hot work was being conducted the day of the casualty. In addition, the fire pattern and damage on the lower level also indicates that the fire did not start within the starboard generator space where maintenance was previously conducted.

Given the location of the hot work and based on the structural damage found during the investigation, the fire appeared to have originated just outside the workshop on the third deck on the starboard side of the engine room where the contractors regularly took their breaks.

As the fire grew and became stronger, heat was transferred through the steel deck above and into the spaces on the second deck. At some point as the fire grew, the conveyor belt on the second deck was ignited. After the conveyor belt caught fire, it provided a path for the fire to expand forward to the bow and up into the deckhouse and onto the cargo boom.

Download the report in full: NTSB-Engine-Room-Fire-aboard-Bulk-Carrier-St.-Clair

Read another accident report from NTSB: Poor hull maintenance linked to flooding of towing vessel Tom Bussler says NTSB report

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