NTSB determines leaking fuel caused Caribbean Fantasy fire

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The following is text of a news release from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB):

(WASHINGTON) — The National Transportation Safety Board determined Tuesday the immediate cause of the Aug. 17, 2016, fire aboard the auto and passenger vessel Caribbean Fantasy was leaking fuel that contacted a hot surface in the ship’s engine room.

Contributing to the fire’s rapid spread were quick-closing valves for fuel and lube oil that were intentionally blocked open, according to the investigation. The NTSB also found that fixed firefighting systems and a structural fire boundary failed.

Also contributing to the fire and a subsequent prolonged abandonment effort was Baja Ferries’ poor safety culture and ineffective implementation of its safety management system on board Caribbean Fantasy, the NTSB found. Adding to the severity of the fire was the failure of the Panama Maritime Authority and the recognized organization, RINA Services, to ensure the safety management system was functional.

As a result of the investigation the NTSB issued safety recommendations to the to the U.S. Coast Guard, Baja Ferries S.A. de C.V., RINA Services S.p.A, the International Association of Classification Societies, and the Panama Maritime Authority.

The recommendations address machinery maintenance practices, fuel and lube oil quick-closing valves, fire protection, crew training on and familiarity with emergency systems and procedures, implementation of the company’s safety management system, and oversight by Panama.

“The recommendations that we issued today, if acted upon, will improve marine safety,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “I urge the recipients to act on these recommendations, so that this fortunately non-fatal fire is not remembered as the dress rehearsal for a future tragedy.’’

The fire began in the main engine room of the 614-foot Panamanian-flagged vessel when fuel spraying from a leaking flange contacted the hot surface of the port main engine. The fire could not be contained, and the master ordered abandon ship. The fire burned for three days while the vessel, used for ferry service between Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and San Juan and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, drifted and subsequently grounded near the port of San Juan. The fire was extinguished by shore-based firefighters after Caribbean Fantasy was towed into the harbor.

More than 45 of the 511 passengers and crew aboard were treated for non-life-threatening injuries including knee, ankle and leg injuries, fainting, breathing difficulties and other issues. Only six injuries – ankle injuries incurred while sliding down the marine evacuation system – were considered serious. The accident resulted in an estimated $20 million in damage and the Caribbean Fantasy was eventually scrapped in lieu of repairs.

Click here to read the complete report.

By Professional Mariner Staff