New Zealand accident investigators publish findings on 2020 cargo ship fire in Napier Port

Kota Bahagia (Photo: wilson)

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission of New Zealand (TAIC) has released its investigation report on the fire incident that occurred on board the Singaporean-flagged general cargo vessel Kota Bahagia at Napier Port on December 18, 2020.

During the morning (local time) of the said date, cargo discharge operations were underway on board Kota Bahagia at Wharf Four, Napier Port.

Four people working in the number two cargo hold discovered a rapidly evolving fire in the hold and evacuated immediately.

With the local fire service in attendance, the fire was suppressed using the on-board CO2 fire-suppression system.

The fire was officially declared as extinguished on December 24, 2020. There were no fatalities or injuries, but there was extensive damage to number the cargo hold and high-value project cargo in the hold.

Why it happened

The TAIC said molten material, ejected during gas-cutting activities, very likely ignited dry sawdust nearby, which created a smouldering fire that ignited the polyvinyl-chloride tarpaulins and other combustible components of the FRP project cargo. Also, hot-work precautions were reportedly not fully implemented by the ship’s crew.

The tight stowage of the project cargo hampered the view and access of the person assisting with the gas-cutting operations. Consequently, in some locations, there was no way to effectively control the dispersal of molten material ejected during the gas-cutting.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand responders did not initially give due regard to the master’s command status and knowledge of the ship and its systems. Valuable time was lost as the master attempted to convey their intended tactics to the officer in charge of the unified command team.

The report added that the hatch cover could not be closed until a crane wire and container spreader had been hoisted out of the cargo hold. As a consequence, there was a delay in the activation of the vessel’s fixed CO2 fire-extinguishing system and the release of carbon dioxide into the cargo hold.

What can be learned

Risk assessments and job safety analyses for hot work must give consideration to any constraints in the area where the hot work is to be carried out. The risk assessment should be applied systematically with monitoring to ensure the control measures are appropriate and effective.

A shipboard fire response is based on the vessel’s design, fire protection systems and crew numbers.

During a co-ordinated incident response involving ship fires in a New Zealand port, the ship’s master might not be the incident controller. However, the master retains the overriding authority to make, and the responsibility for making, decisions regarding the safety and security of the vessel.

The master is responsible for the safety of life on board, the care of the cargo and protecting the marine environment from ship-borne pollution. Fire and emergency responders need to take this into account as part of their responses to ship fires.

Who may benefit

Vessel operators and crew, charterers, freight forwarders, shore-based marine engineering contractors, maritime training facilities and shore-based emergency response agencies may all benefit from the findings in the report.

Baird Maritime

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