Fires on board ships leave much room for error. Yet, with proper training, crew can handle almost any fire situation. The Nautical Institute says this in its latest Mars Report, which describes how cool heads, patience, and proper technique resulted in an incinerator fire being successfully extinguished.

According to The Nautical Institute, proper training, regular, credible and realistic scenarios, as well as effective debriefings after each exercise, allow crew to tackle on board fires successfully. The exception may be new ultra-large container vessels, which may have more unevaluated and unanticipated risks than current best practices have accounted for. In its latest Mars Report, the incident below is given an example of best practice, in which the crew undertook boundary cooling for four hours before any further action.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

A vessel underway started its incinerator to incinerate oily rags and sludge. About five hours later, after the job was completed, the incinerator was stopped. All specifications appeared normal and the furnace temperature was noted to be 950°C. Following the company procedure, the crew continued to monitor the incinerator during the
cooling off period.

By 19:00, five hours after the incinerator had been turned off , the temperature of the furnace was noted to be 280°C and the blower fan was still running. At 20:32, the duty engineer noticed smoke coming from the outer body of the incinerator. On closer inspection, he could see paint peeling off the body of the incinerator. The temperature of the incinerator body was between 250-350° C.

He informed the chief engineer and an emergency response was initiated. The crew mustered and fire parties began boundary cooling. Boundary cooling was continued for about four hours until heat indications suggested that the fire was extinguished.

Investigation findings

During the investigation it was found that the fire had started in the air-cooled incinerator chamber jacket. Later, it was found that refractory and outside body plates were intact. Traces of oil were found between the sludge dosing door and the combustion chamber, which was an indication that oil had accumulated in the double shell refractory lining.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • Even during the cool off period, an incinerator must be attended to and regularly checked.
  • Boundary cooling and cool heads are a great asset when fighting a shipboard fire.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202117, that are part of Report Number 341. A selection of this Report has also been published in SWZ|Maritime’s April 2021 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.