November 2012: Engine room fires on small commercial fishing vessels

This safety update is issued to highlight the hazards and lessons learned from recent incidents concerning engine room fires.


In the absence of a fire detection system, the most common means of detecting a fire on smaller ships seems to be the discovery of smoke coming out from the engine room vents or the engine room entry hatch. However, if the engine room hatch is opened to investigate or extinguish the fire, more oxygen is introduced which further feeds the fire.

Under no circumstances should a person enter a space suspected of containing a fire without appropriate personal protection (e.g. breathing apparatus, fire suits, etc.) and the person entering the space containing a fire should be trained and competent to deal with these situations.

Most smaller vessels are only required to carry portable fire extinguishers. The number of portable fire extinguishers is prescribed in the Maritime Rule 42B.57 and depends upon the length overall of the vessel. One of these extinguishers is required by that rule to be of a type which can fight oil fires.

The effectiveness of fire-fighting equipment relies on correct installation, maintenance and the use of the correct size, class and rating for the fire type. For portable fire extinguishers Maritime Rule 42B.57 prescribes the size, class and rating for a particular type of fire.

Vessel owners are reminded that the Maritime rules prescribe a minimum standard. Owners are reminded that they must carry out their own risk assessment and if necessary go to a higher standard to effectively address any risk posed.

This is because the Maritime Rule prescribes minimum standards, but this may not always be enough to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) in particular situations. Compliance with HSWA requires an evaluation of the risk in that specific space which may require more than the minimum standard specified in the Maritime Rules and is the responsibility of the operator.


Safe practice tips

  • Equipment and machinery should be so installed, protected and maintained in accordance with the appropriate maritime rules so as not to constitute a danger to persons or the vessel. A higher standard may be required to ensure that the HSWA standard is met, that is, that all practicable steps must be taken to eliminate, or isolate the hazard or minimise the likelihood of harm.
  • Engine spaces, or any space where there is a risk of fire, must be kept clean, free of fuel or combustible liquid or gas leaks or any other potential causes of ignition.
  • Exhaust pipes, manifolds and other hot surfaces within reach of personnel should be properly insulated, shielded or otherwise protected to prevent accident or burns.
  • Wherever fuel oil or any other combustible fluid or material might escape and come into contact with hot surfaces, or any other source of ignition such as exhausts, turbo chargers, etc., suitable guards or shields should be installed.
  • Vessels should be provided with suitable alarm and detection systems.
  • Vessels should be provided with suitable installations and equipment for the detection and fighting of fire. This is particularly so for engine rooms that are routinely unmanned.
  • If required by the rule or by the owners risk assessment, fixed fire fighting systems should be installed in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations, the applicable maritime rules and to the satisfaction of a surveyor.
  • Where there is any doubt over the suitability of fire prevention, detection or fighting equipment, guidance should be sought from your ship surveyor.
  • There should be a means for stopping vent fans, if fitted, and closing the ventilator openings from a location outside the engine rooms.
  • When a fire is suspected in a space, every effort should be made to ascertain the extent and location before entering the space. This can be done by assessing bulkhead temperatures beforehand.

Original source content - Safety Bulletin Issue 28, November 2012: Engine room fires on small commercial fishing vessels.


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