Any situation where potentially “live” circuits or wires are exposed should be corrected with the briefest of delays. The Nautical Institute gives this advice in its latest Mars Report in which a live wire resulted in a fire that took ten days to extinguish.

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 general cargo vessel was fully loaded with cut timber packed into plastic-wrapped packages, both in the cargo hold and on deck. As the vessel was departing its loading berth, the linesman noticed that an electrical extension cord between the vessel and the quay had not been disconnected. The crew on the forecastle informed the bridge team, but the vessel was already moving away from the berth, and it was not possible to prevent the cable from breaking.

When the pilot left the vessel, he saw a few metres of the extension cable hanging down by the side of the vessel. The cable was not inspected after the vessel departed. During the voyage there were no observed anomalies.

The vessel anchored in a port to bunker via a bunkering barge. Just after the bunkering began, the crew of the bunkering barge smelt smoke. Then they saw flames emerging from the deck cargo of the general cargo vessel on the port side, forward.

Also read: Which factors play a role in rising number of ship fires?

Firefighting operations

They immediately informed the crew of the vessel and bunkering was stopped. The bunkering barge cast off and moved away. The crew on the barge then activated their water cannon and moved closer to the general cargo vessel in order to attempt to extinguish the fire.

Meanwhile, the crew on the vessel were also attempting to extinguish the fire using the vessel’s own firefighting equipment. Other tugs and small boats arrived to help extinguish the fire, but all efforts were in vain.

Firefighting operations took ten days.

Under its own power and with tugboats attached, the general cargo vessel was docked at a port of refuge seven days after the fire had first been detected. Finally, three days after the vessel had docked and fully ten days after the fire was first detected, the fire was declared extinguished.

Also read: Large fire on board bulk carrier Silver Lady

Investigation findings

The official investigation found, among other things, that the extension cable that broke while undocking was probably live when the fire started. Although a circuit breaker normally trips rapidly if there is a direct metallic connection between two conductors, if the current is passing through an electric arc and electrical conductors with substantial impedance (electrical resistance), the current may be too low to trip the circuit breaker.

So, in all probability, an electric arc had come into contact with the plastic packaging or the wood and eventually ignited the material.

Advice from The Nautical Institute

In addition the the advice already mentioned above, The Nautial Institute states:

  • The management of this vessel fire was one of the most extensive operations of its kind in modern times for Sweden. Among other things, the investigation revealed that multiple and overlapping responsible agencies needed to cooperate, but no protocols had been established prior to the emergency.
  • The management of ships in need of assistance must be robust. Prior planning for all contingencies should be undertaken by a wide swath of concerned agencies including at the local, municipal and federal levels.

Also read: ‘Shipping losses hit record low, but jump in fires’

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202334, that are part of Report Number 370. A selection of the Mars Reports are also published in the SWZ|Maritime magazine. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published (in full) 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.