The Australian Transport Safety Bureau is encouraging a prominent bulk shipping company to make safety improvements after investigating the 10th hot work-related fire on one of the firm’s vessels since 2017.
On March 25, 2021, the freighter BBC Rhone valley was alongside the pier at Port Hedland, Western Australia. Workers were cutting loose sea fastenings for cargo in the tween deck, and they were using a plasma torch. The hot work sparked a fire in the lower hold, and the crew’s efforts to extinguish it with hoses were not successful. The hatches were closed and the space flooded with CO2; boundary cooling and temperature monitoring continued, and the blaze was finally declared out three days later. The machinery cargo in the hold was destroyed by the heat of the fire.
“The ATSB’s investigation found the risk of fire had not been adequately assessed by the crew prior to the commencement of the hot work,” ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said. “As a result, a continuous fire watch was not maintained, and proper precautions were not taken to sufficiently protect vulnerable cargo from catching alight.”
ATSB determined that this was the tenth fire related to cargo securing hot work on one of the firm’s vessels since 2014, and the fourth investigated by ATSB. None reportedly resulted in fatalities, but one caused about $8 million in damages.
In response to the report, the vessel’s managers told NTSB that they will amend the procedures for hot work to detail the duties of the fire watch more fully. The fire watch requirements will also be incorporated in the permit procedure for hot work, and a training video and additional fire watch equipment will be distributed to the firm’s fleet.
Mitchell said that this remedial action could potentially address the problem, but a formal recommendation has been issued and remains open until the agency is satisfied that the company has responded adequately.
“The ATSB is recommending the ship’s managers, Briese Heavylift, and its parent company Briese Schiffahrts, take safety action to ensure safety management system procedures are effectively implemented on BBC Rhone valley and all other relevant ships across their fleets,” Mr Mitchell said. “The continuing incidence of fires on the cargo holds of ships while performing hot work highlights the importance of adhering to shipboard procedures and recognized safe work guidelines.”