NTSB Report Issued Following Fire on Aleutian Falcon

by | Mar 28, 2022 | Maritime Law

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the February 17, 2021 fire that occurred on board the fish processor Aleutian Falcon.  During the incident, a fire broke out while the vessel was docked for repairs at the Trident Seafoods shipyard in Tacoma, Washington.  After the fire broke out, it took four days to be extinguished.  Luckily no one was injured, but the vessel was declared a loss, with damages of $16,460,850.

The NTSB’s report explains the fire occurred during maintenance and repair work on the vessel:

From March 1 to 3, fire investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) examined the Aleutian Falcon at the request of the US Coast Guard. On July 16, the ATF issued a preliminary report; they determined that the fire was “accidental” and that the ignition source was hot slag from the hot work being performed in the walk-in refrigerator area and pantry, including the bulkheads of the spaces, which ignited combustibles such as cardboard, plywood, and polyurethane insulation.

The NTSB report noted that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has guidelines in place that apply whenever hot work is done.  During the work on the vessel, there should have been a fire watch present.

The NTSB also found the probable cause:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire aboard the fish processor Aleutian Falcon was the company’s supervisory personnel inadequately planning for hot work, as well as shoreside workers’ inadequately protecting hot work areas, allowing slag from hot work to ignite combustible material near an insulated wooden bulkhead of a walk-in refrigerator that had not been removed or sufficiently protected. Contributing to the casualty was the ineffective communication between the supervisory personnel, marine chemist, and workers

The NTSB also provided a lessons learned regarding hot work:

3.2 Lessons Learned: Preparing for Hot Work

It is critical for supervisory personnel to evaluate hot work areas for fire hazards to ensure that affected spaces are completely understood, prepared, and protected for planned hot work in accordance with regulatory guidelines, company policies, and marine chemist certificates. Adherence to proper policies and procedures is vital to completing a safe hot work operation. Additionally, crewmembers and personnel involved in hot work should be able to identify hazards and take action to remove or mitigate potential risks to the vessel.

The incident shows the importance of proper procedures for hot work.  Regulations require vessels to take certain precautions in order to prevent incidents like this from ever occurring.   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.

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