ATSB says BBC Rhonetal managers did not properly implement safety procedures

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has issued safety recommendations to the managers and parent company of cargo ship BBC Rhonetal (IMO 9614701) following an investigation into a fire in the hold of the vessel at Port Hedland, Western Australia.

The ATSB concluded that the managers of the BBC Rhonetal had not implemented effectively the shipboard safety management system procedures to prevent the fire. ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell said that “the ATSB’s investigation found the risk of fire had not been adequately assessed by the crew prior to the commencement of the hot work. As a result, a continuous fire watch was not maintained, and proper precautions were not taken to sufficiently protect vulnerable cargo from catching alight.”

The ATSB also noted that the fire was the 10th on a company ship in the past 14 years, and the fourth investigated by the ATSB, that identified similar contributing factors. At the time of the fire, BBC Rhonetal was owned by Briese Schiffahrts, managed by Briese Heavylift and operated by BBC Chartering & Logistic, all based out of Leer, Germany.

The ship was alongside at Port Hedland on the morning of March 25th 2021 when a fire broke out in the lower cargo hold during hot work, A plasma torch was being used to cut welded sea fastenings for cargo units in preparation for unloading them. It took three days to extinguish the fire.

Mitchell said that the continuing incidences of fires on the cargo holds of ships while performing hot work highlighted the importance of adhering to shipboard procedures and recognized safe work guidelines for hot work.

BBC Rhonetal’s managers said in response that procedures for hot work would be amended to better describe the role of the fire watch, emphasizing the watch’s importance in fire prevention. Fire watch requirements would also be integrated into the hot work permit procedure. Additional equipment for the fire watch would be distributed across the fleet.

The company also said that it would introduce measures to educate shipboard crew on the amended procedures and the additional equipment.

“While the ATSB considers the safety action proposed by the ship’s managers in this case has the potential to address the hot work safety issue, no timeline has been provided for their implementation, and the ATSB has therefore issued a formal recommendation to the ship’s managers, and the parent company,” Mitchell said.

“The ATSB is recommending the ship’s managers, Briese Heavylift, and its parent company Briese Schiffahrts, take safety action to ensure safety management system procedures are effectively implemented on BBC Rhonetal and all other relevant ships across their fleets,” Mitchell said.

2013-built, Antigua & Barbuda-flagged, 14,941 gt BBC Rhonetal is owned by Nortmoor Briese Schiffahrts care of manager Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co of Leer, Germany. It is entered with Skuld (Skuld Hamburg) on behalf of Briese Schiffahrts GmbH & Co.