Inadequate maintenance led to engine room fire, says TSB

A dangerous fire aboard container ship MOL Prestige (IMO 9321029) in 2018 was caused by inadequate maintenance, Canada’s Transportation Safety Bureau (TSB) has concluded

On January 31st 2018, a fire broke out in the engine room of the MOL Prestige  while she was under way about 150 nm to the southwest of Haida Gwaii, British Columbia. There were 22 crewmembers and 1 supernumerary on board at the time. Five of the crewmembers were seriously injured in the fire.

TSB’s investigation determined that the fire was caused by maintenance issues in the engine room of the MOL Prestige. A high temperature settling tank was heated to about 120C because the steam valves that fed its steam heating coils were leaking. This led to the abnormally high temperature. To cool it, the crew transferred cold liquid from the #7 starboard bunker tank into the settling tank. The initial flow probably contained water from the bottom of the bunker tank. When it entered the hot settling tank, it turned to steam.

Sometime previously the level indicator on the settling tank had been removed. The crew also had removed a blind flange at the top of the indicator pipe so that the level could be inspected manually. When the water in the fuel boiled, fuel oil was expelled from the open flange fitting and into the engine room (frothover), and a fire broke out adjacent to the settling tank. It eventually worked its way up the tank, where most of the spilled oil was located, and this became the seat of the fire.

Six engineers were trapped in the engine control room by the thick smoke, and the elevator from the control room to the upper decks was inoperable. The chief mate put on an SCBA, entered the engine room and delivered several emergency escape breathing devices. Using the available breathing devices, three of the engineers exited the space and climbed up a ladderway with the chief mate They made it to safety but sustained burns after coming into contact with the hot metal of the stair railings.

The remaining three engineers were still trapped in the engine control room, and the master could not find a volunteer to bring breathing apparatus to them. He instructed the engineers to attempt an escape without assistance or equipment, but the thick smoke forced them back into the engine control room.

Above deck the crew initiated a firefighting response with boundary cooling. The fire continued to grow within the engine room, and the boundary bulkhead temperatures continued to rise. Over radio, the master and chief mate discussed the possibility of deploying CO2 flooding and whether that could be done safely without harming the personnel still trapped in the engine control room. Those trapped below heard this conversation, leading to panic. One of them attempted to escape and sustained burns and smoke inhalation before returning to the confines of the control room.

About an hour and a half after the incident began, the elevator began working again, and the trapped engineering crewmembers were able to escape. The engineers then deployed CO2 flooding, and by the following afternoon the fire had been extinguished.

A Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter evacuated two of the crew members to a hospital in Queen Charlotte for treatment. Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier assisted MOL Prestige until a salvage tug arrived and towed the ship into port in Seattle.

TSB warned that inadequate emergency escape plans, drills, vessel maintenance and safety management systems might increase the risk of a casualty.

2006-built, Singapore-flagged, 71,902 gt MOL Prestige is owned by IS Container Pte Ltd pf Singapore. It is managed by Mitsui OSK Lines of Tokyo, Japan. ISM manager is Bernhard-Schulte of Shanghai, China. It is entered with Japan Club  (Singapore office in charge) on behalf of IS Container Pte Ltd.