NTSB Report into Fire in Engine Room of Towing Vessel

by | May 27, 2022 | Maritime Law

The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the May 18, 2021 fire that broke out in the engine room on board the towing vessel MARY LYNN.  During the incident, the boat was on the Upper Mississippi River near St. Louis, Missouri.  After the fire broke out, a nearby samaritan vessel and a Fire Department fire boat were able to extinguish the fire.  Luckily no one was injured, but the damage to the vessel exceeded $700,000.

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 on board the towing vessel Mary Lynn was the overpressurization of the fuel day tank (which did not have an independent vent) and a main engine fuel return system when the fatigued chief engineer inadvertently left the day tank overflow valves to the storage tanks closed, which ultimately led to ignition of spraying diesel fuel from a main engine’s fuel system onto an uninsulated engine component.

The NTSB also stressed the importance of tank ventilation:

Subchapter M regulations for towing vessels require vessels built after 2000 to have vents for each fuel tank. Regulations for vessels ranging from small passenger vessels to cargo ships require that fuel tanks be independently vented from the highest point of the tank to atmosphere on a weather deck. Tank ventilation is important to ensure a valve line up error does not lead to the overpressurization of or vacuum in a fuel tank. Operators should be aware of their fuel tank ventilation system arrangements. On vessels without independent fuel day tank ventilation, it is critical to ensure proper valve position during transfer and operation of the fuel system.

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.   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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