Maritime safety investigation raises concerns about firefighting capabilities at Canadian ports

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) has released its investigation report into a fire on board a bulk carrier near Windsor, Ontario in 2019.

The TSB said the report raises a council safety concern about firefighting resources at some Canadian harbors and ports.

On December 15, 2019, a fire broke out in the engine room of the bulk carrier Tecumseh as it transited the Detroit River off Windsor, Ontario with 16 crew members on board. The crew attempted to extinguish the fire with the fixed CO2 fire extinguishing system.

The investigation revealed that the fire on board started following the failure of a flexible fuel hose supplying fuel to the vessel’s port main engine.

Approximately three hours after the fire suppression system was activated, two crew members entered the engine room to determine if the fire was still spreading. The TSB said this re-entry allowed fresh air into the engine room, which most likely reignited the fire.

In the early hours (local time) of said date, the vessel was towed to the Port of Windsor for firefighting assistance. However, shore resources were not trained in firefighting at sea and therefore unable to provide assistance on board.

As a result, these responders remained ashore to provide shore boundary cooling while awaiting the arrival of marine-trained firefighters, who arrived approximately two hours later. The fire was then put out later that day.

The TSB has expressed concern that some Canadian ports and port authorities may not have the equipment, training and resources to respond effectively to shipboard fires that occur within their jurisdictions, which could result in fires endangering crews, the general public, property and the environment.

The investigation also identified a number of deficiencies in the operator’s safety management system with respect to fire response, including:

  • that the onboard fire training manual was not vessel specific, and therefore vessel specific information was not available for use in training on actual onboard equipment, such as the CO2 system; and
  • there was no emergency preparedness plan on board to guide the crew in fire response actions, such as when to close ventilation flaps and dampers.

The investigation also revealed that the operator’s safety management system did not contain any guidelines for documentation, testing or inspection and maintenance schedules to ensure that the main engine fuel hoses were of adequate integrity and remained in good working order. Although a classification survey was conducted on the vessel 24 days prior to the occurrence, the survey found no issues with the fuel hoses despite a class rule requiring these assemblies to be tested on prototypes.

The investigation also noted that there were several regulatory non-conformities on board the vessel, including those related to structural integrity.

Following this occurrence, the owner of the vessel Lower Lakes Towing reminded masters and senior officers that, absent exceptional circumstances, no attempt to re-enter the engine room or other action that would compromise watertight integrity Air sealing of the sealed engine room should only be performed once the CO2 is released, until the temperature drops below the auto-ignition point.

Regarding maintenance, the company has also changed the software used for maintenance planning and monitoring. It also appointed third-party auditors for each vessel to review the planned maintenance system, policies and procedures, regulatory and environmental procedures, and training requirements.