Photo: Tacoma Fire Department via US Coast Guard
Photo: Tacoma Fire Department via US Coast Guard

Inadequate hot work planning caused fire on fish factory vessel in Washington, NTSB report finds

Inadequate planning for hot work led to a fire aboard a commercial fish processing vessel while docked at a shipyard in Tacoma, Washington, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a recently released Marine Investigation Report.

On February 17, 2021, a fire was reported on the commercial fish processing vessel Aleutian Falcon while it was docked for repairs at a shipyard in Tacoma, Washington.

The Tacoma Fire Department responded and extinguished the fire four days later. No one was on board the vessel at the time of the fire, and there were no injuries reported.

An estimated 20 to 30 gallons (75 to 113 litres) of hydraulic oil leaked into the water but were captured by a containment boom.

The vessel was declared a total loss with an estimated value of nearly US$16.5 million.

Aleutian Falcon was docked for its maintenance and repair period in anticipation of the 2021 processing season. A section of corroded steel plating, located on the bridge deck above the pantry, dry stores area and walk-in refrigerator, was being cropped and renewed.

The job was considered "hot work" since the tools used could produce sparks.

Due to the location of the hot work, a marine chemist was brought on board to examine the areas involved. The chemist issued a marine chemist certificate that stipulated that work must be completed "without penetrating" the bridge deck, indicating he either was not aware or clearly informed of the full scope of the planned hot work, or he wrote the stipulation in error.

The marine chemist certificate required all foam insulation within 12 inches (30 centimetres) of the area of planned hot work to be removed.

The workers told investigators that they removed the foam insulation in the area of hot work; however, they did not remove a foam-filled wooden bulkhead separating the walk-in refrigerator space, adjacent to the pantry, which was combustible.

The fire most likely started near the wooden bulkhead, located directly below the area where hot work had been completed for the day. The hot work would have produced sparks and slag that likely travelled from the deck above (overhead) down to the wooden bulkhead, igniting the combustible materials in the area, as well as the bulkhead, and allowing for a smoldering fire to become established.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the fire was the company's supervisory personnel inadequately planning for hot work, as well as shoreside workers' inadequately protecting hot work areas, allowing slag from hot work to ignite combustible material near an insulated wooden bulkhead of a walk-in refrigerator that had not been removed or sufficiently protected.

Contributing was the ineffective communication between the supervisory personnel, marine chemist, and workers.

"It is critical for supervisory personnel to evaluate hot work areas for fire hazards to ensure that effected spaces are completely understood, prepared and protected for planned hot work in accordance with regulatory guidelines, company policies and marine chemist certificates," the report said. "Adherence to proper policies and procedures is vital to completing a safe hot work operation. Additionally, crewmembers and personnel involved in hot work should be able to identify hazards and take action to remove or mitigate potential risks to the vessel."

The NTSB previously investigated fires following hot work on vessels including the August 2016 fire aboard the passenger vessel Tahoe Queen, the May 2018 fire aboard the cargo ship Chipolbrok Moon, and the December 2018 fire aboard the fishing vessel Jeanette​. The NTSB found hot work safety policies were not followed in all three fires.

Baird Maritime / Work Boat World