The National Transportation Safety Board has released its report on the April 28, 2021 fire that broke out in the engine room on board the container ship PRESIDENT EISENHOWER. During the incident, a fire broke out on board while the ship was en route from Los Angeles to San Francisco, California. The crew was able to fight the fire with fire hoses and a water mist system. Luckily none of the crew members were injured, but the damage to the vessel was significant.
The NTSB’s report documents that for thirty minutes before the fire broke out, fuel leaked into the engine room:
CCTV footage showed that about 0124, while the containership President Eisenhower was under way at night, ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel began spraying in the area around the main engine’s no. 5 cylinder, about 30 minutes before the fire started. The engine room was unattended at the time, and the leaking fuel went unnoticed.
The NTSB noted lessons that could be learned from what occurred:
Rapid Oil Leak Detection
Rapid oil leak-detection systems are a valuable tool that can be used to prevent fire in machinery spaces. Video analytic technology is designed to use standard CCTV video to detect fuel mist and spray in real time and alert the crew before any ignition and fire. This technology is supported by class societies as an acceptable method for identifying leaks and can be integrated with existing CCTV systems. Had this technology been in use aboard the President Eisenhower, the spraying fuel oil may have been detected well before the fire developed.
Containing Engine Room Fires
The crew of the President Eisenhower effectively contained the spread of a main engine room fire by removing fuel and oxygen sources, cooling boundaries, and communicating effectively. These efforts show the importance of realistic scenario-based training, including engine room emergencies, which involve shutting down machinery, fuel oil, lube oil, and ventilation systems, as well as boundary monitoring, to quickly contain and suppress engine room fires, which can spread to other spaces and/or cause a loss of propulsion and electrical power
The incident shows the importance of proper maintenance and awareness on a vessel. 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 be proactive and take preventative measures, including regular maintenance and repairs.
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