Unattended candles, inoperable alarms cited in fire that destroyed megayacht

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(WASHINGTON) — Candles lit and left unattended in a yacht’s VIP suite caused a fire that resulted in the total loss of the $6.3 million vessel and $480,000 in damage to a Miami marina and adjacent vessels, according to the National Transportation Safety Board’s Marine Accident Brief 21/17, issued Thursday.

No injuries were reported in connection with the Dec. 18, 2019, fire aboard the 120-foot-long, 299-gross-ton private yacht Andiamo. Firefighting efforts resulted in flooding that led to the yacht capsizing onto its starboard side and coming to rest on the marina’s seafloor in about 27 feet of water. An absorbent boom was deployed to minimize the environmental impact from an oil sheen. Adjacent vessels sustained smoke and heat damage and the marina’s nearby power pedestal and dock floats required repair, but the fire did not spread beyond Andiamo.

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In this photo from Dec. 18, 2019, Andiamo is seen ablaze and listing to starboard as fireboats attempt to extinguish the flames. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue photo

The Marshall Islands-flagged Andiamo was moored at the Island Gardens Deep Harbour Marina on Pier B. The six crewmembers aboard the yacht were preparing for the arrival of a guest of the owner. During those preparations, two crewmembers reported lights throughout the lower level and the main salon were not working. The lighting issue was not resolved by the time the guest arrived, so a member of the crew lit three candles, placing them on top of a wood veneer dresser directly below a porthole decorated with two curtains. The crewmember extinguished one candle that was flickering, while the other two remained lit, and then departed the suite with the guest.

A few minutes later the crewmember opened the door to the main salon and saw a plume of black smoke about 4 feet high from the deck. Two crewmembers began yelling “Fire!” which the captain heard, and he proceeded to investigate, but he did not activate the general alarm. He instructed a crewmember to have everyone evacuate the yacht and to call for help. Despite the yacht being equipped with an integrated fire detection and alarm system – consisting of smoke and thermal detectors and manual (pull type) and audible alarms – the crew told investigators that they neither heard nor saw any fire alarms at that time. The intensity of the fire grew so quickly the crew could not safely initiate firefighting efforts and had to evacuate the vessel.

Investigation revealed the American Bureau of Shipping reported on Oct. 2 the fire detection and alarm system for the vessel was inoperable. Visits from ABS indicated that despite the crew’s repair attempts, the system and alarms were still not functioning over two months later, at the time of the fire. If fully functional, the fire detection and alarm system would have alerted the crew of the fire’s location at its onset, which would have allowed for a direct response and fire suppression efforts. Investigators determined the crew’s failure to complete timely repairs to the fire detection system, known to be inoperable for two months, contributed to the severity of the fire.

“Candle usage on a vessel, whether attended or not, poses a fire risk,” the report said. “The abundance of flammable materials on board can allow a fire to quickly spread out of control.”

– National Transportation Safety Board

By Professional Mariner Staff