Lessons are to be learned from a Marine Safety Investigation Report, recently published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), of a fire on board a general cargo ship anchored off the Australian coast.
The fire was caused when a fitter was removing steel brackets, welded to the hatch covers, with oxy-acetylene cutting equipment. This incident is similar to other fires seen in recent years where the crew have not appropriately assessed the risks associated with using oxy-acetylene cutting equipment on hatch covers.
In this incident, in the process of removing the brackets, a hole was inadvertently cut in the aft cargo hold hatch cover. As a result, sparks and molten metal fell into the cargo hold and onto the pallets of cargo stowed below.
When smoke was sighted and the alarm raised, the ship's fixed fire extinguishing system was used to flood the cargo hold with carbon dioxide, and the ship was brought alongside a wharf where the local fire fighting authorities took control. Despite several methods to extinguish the fire, it was four days before the fire was confirmed extinguished and not before the hold was flooded with approximately 700 tonnes of water via the fire monitor on an offshore supply vessel.