NTSB Report Issued following Engine Room Fire on Miss Dorothy

by | Feb 22, 2022 | Maritime Law

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its investigative report on the March 17, 2021 fire that broke out in the engine room on board the towing vessel Miss Dorothy.  At the time, the boat was on the Lower Mississippi River near Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A fire broke out during operations while the vessel was pushing 16 barges on the river.  Crew members attempted to fight the fire but had to evacuate to the barges.  A nearby samaritan vessel was able to rescue the crew members.  The damage to the vessel was estimated at $2.4 million.

The NTSB’s report documents the probable cause of the fire:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the engine room fire aboard the towing vessel Miss Dorothy was the ignition of spraying diesel fuel from a main engine’s fuel system onto an uninsulated section of the engine’s exhaust system. Contributing to the severity of the fire and damage to the vessel was the inability to effectively secure ventilation to the space and fuel to the affected engine.

The NTSB’s investigation focused on fuel piping in the engine room.  During this, it was discovered that a fuel oil return line for the starboard engine was displaced from its connection flange.  According to vessel management, the engine exhaust surfaces in this location could be over 600 degrees.

The NTSB also stressed the importance of engine exhaust insulation:

3.2 Lessons Learned: Towing Vessel Engine Exhaust Component Insulation

Engine rooms contain multiple fuel sources, making the spaces especially vulnerable to rapidly spreading fires. Regulations for towing vessels state that “piping and machinery components that exceed 220 °C (428°F), including fittings, flanges, valves, exhaust manifolds, and turbochargers, must be insulated.” Uninsulated engine exhaust surfaces can provide an ignition source for flammable liquids that can easily develop into fires that are difficult to contain. Towing vessel owners and operators, Coast Guard marine inspectors, and third-party organization (TPO) towing vessel examiners should be aware of these dangers and fire risks and should regularly and thoroughly inspect equipment to ensure that measures are in place to prevent flammable liquids from coming into contact with hot surfaces.

The incident shows the importance of proper equipment on a boat.  Regulations require vessels to have certain equipment and be configured in a specific manner in order to prevent incidents like this from ever occurring.   As the report explains:

Section 143.220 (b) of Title 46 Code of Federal Regulations Subchapter M for existing towing vessels such as the Miss Dorothy states that “piping and machinery components that exceed 220 °C (428°F), including fittings, flanges, valves, exhaust manifolds, and turbochargers, must be insulated. Measures must be in place to prevent flammable or combustible liquid piping leaks from coming into contact with these components.”

It can be dangerous to work in any industry when safety considerations are not taken seriously.  This is especially so when working on a large ship. Safe maritime companies must ensure that their ships do not put the lives of their crew members at risk.  Safe maritime companies must be proactive and take preventative measures, including regular maintenance and repairs, as well as ensuring its crew members are adequately trained.

Our experienced lawyers handle maritime personal injury and wrongful death litigation of all kinds and the skills needed to represent the families of loved ones who have lost their lives or those who have been seriously injured as a result of the negligence of another party. The lawyers of Spagnoletti Law Firm have handled maritime lawsuits throughout the country including those involving capsized vessels.

The experienced and aggressive vessel accident attorneys at Spagnoletti Law Firm can help you understand your rights if you or a loved one was a victim of a maritime disaster. There are strict and short time limits on making claims related to maritime injuries, so please contact us online or call 713-804-9306 or 877-678-5864 to learn more about your rights.