U.S. Department of Labor
Process: Housekeeping Safety
Approximately 20 minutes after a fishing vessel steamed out of harbor, containing 40 lobster creels and 1 mile of back rope on deck, the crew was forced to abandon ship. Also onboard were 800 liters combined of diesel, hydraulic, and lubricating oils.
While sailing, the crew heard a change in engine pitch, as if a cylinder had stopped firing. However, they were unable to verify this because the only access hatch to the engine room was blocked by several of the heavy creels they had on board. The crew had two options available: (1) shoot all the pots and clear the access, or (2) return to port. They decided on the latter. Turning back for port would give them a chance to make harbor before the tide turned.
As the engine ran at full power, smoke began to fill the wheelhouse. The skipper decided to ground the boat on a nearby sandbank and evacuate the crew. Within minutes of grounding the vessel and deploying the life boat to abandon ship, the wheelhouse became engulfed in flames. The vessel’s engine continued to race, despite it being brought to "all stop," which fueled the rapid burning of the vessel.
Analysis and Preventive Measures
Fortunately none of the crew were harmed; however, the costly damage to the vessel could have been avoided had the engine access not been blocked. If the crew was able to enter the engine room, it would have been immediately apparent that fuel was spraying in the space. The crew could have then taken immediate steps to stop the leak and make repairs, preventing the engine from racing when brought to "all stop" as ordered at the engine control. When the air inlet to the engine is contaminated with fuel, it can continue to provide an air-fuel mixture to the engine, allowing continued support of combustion.
Other precautions that may have helped to limit the severity of the incident include: the creation of an alternative access point to the engine room (e.g., wheelhouse), installation of audible smoke detectors, regular maintenance (e.g., check and tighten fuel pipes and their fittings), and use of a diesel engine safety shutdown (air intake shutdown).