ATSB releases investigation preliminary report on fire incident on Antarctic resupply ship

Photo: Australian Antarctic Program/Wayde Maurer

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released a preliminary report from its ongoing investigation into a fire on board the multi-role vessel MPV Everest while it was on charter to the Australian Antarctic Division.

The report outlines basic factual information including the fire’s sequence of events as established as part of the investigation’s initial evidence collection phase, and does not detail any safety findings or analysis.

On the morning of April 5, 2021, MPV Everest was about 1,075 nautical miles north-east of Mawson station in the Southern Ocean on a north-north-easterly course bound for Hobart, with a crew of 37 and 72 expedition staff on board, the preliminary report details.

The ship was making good 11 knots, with power for propulsion being provided by three of the ship’s six engines – numbers two and three in the port engine room and number six in the starboard (The ship’s two engine rooms each contained two 5,760kW and one 1,920kW marine diesel engines.).

Shortly before 11:00 local time, the ship’s master saw large flames erupting from open louvres in the port engine room’s exhaust casing. In response, the master raised the alarm and instructed crew and expedition staff to report to their emergency muster positions.

The preliminary report details subsequent events on board the ship, including the mustering of the crew and expeditioners, the firefighting response, the shutting down of the ship’s port engine room and machinery, the ship’s loss of power, and the subsequent confirmation of the fire’s extinguishment.

Passage resumed at about 18:20 after propulsion was restored with two engines in the starboard engine room (with the port engine room and machinery unusable). There were no injuries to anyone on board.

The following day, the ship’s master diverted MPV Everest to Fremantle, where it arrived on April 13.

The preliminary report notes that during initial inspections of the fire-damaged engine room, the crew observed fuel oil dripping down into it from within the exhaust vent casing above.

Recorded data from the ship’s integrated automation system (IAS) showed a routine transfer to top-up the fuel oil settling tank in the port engine room was started at about 09:25 on the morning of the fire, the report details. Those data indicate that this tank probably overflowed some time after 10:30.

The port fuel oil settling tank’s air vent pipes terminate inside the port engine exhaust casing.

“The ATSB’s investigation will continue to examine the origin and cause of the fire and its development, and the operation of the ship’s fuel oil transfer system, including pumps, piping, alarms and automation,” said ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood.

“Other areas of investigation include the performance of the ship’s firefighting equipment, the effectiveness of the ship’s emergency response, and the efficacy of shipboard communication systems.”

Investigators will also continue to analyse recorded data, including from the ship’s integrated automation system and CCTV, and consider relevant human factors.

Mr Hood noted the preliminary report does not include any safety findings or analysis, which will be detailed in the investigation’s final report to be released at the conclusion of the investigation.

“However, should a critical safety issue be identified at any stage during the investigation, the ATSB will immediately notify relevant parties so appropriate and timely safety action can be taken,” Mr Hood stated.


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