On Monday afternoon, June 12, 2006, the commuter ferry Massachusetts was en route from Rowe's Wharf in Boston Harbor to Hingham, Massachusetts, carrying 65 passengers and 4 crewmembers, when a fire broke out in the engineroom. The Massachusetts, owned and operated by Massachusetts Bay Lines, was inspected and certificated by the U.S. Coast Guard under the small passenger vessel regulations at 46 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Parts 114-122 (subchapter K). The vessel's certificate of inspection (COI), valid for 5 years, was issued on November 14, 2002. The COI allowed a total of 350 persons on board, including 346 passengers (adults and children) and 4 crewmembers (a master and 3 deckhands). At the time of the fire, the Massachusetts was operating pursuant to a subcontract with Boston Harbor Cruises, which had a 5-year contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to provide ferry service between Rowe's Wharf and Hingham Shipyard. The contract specified that vessels had to comply with Coast Guard requirements.
The Massachusetts crew was alerted to the fire about 1615, when the ferry was near the Long Island Bridge, by black smoke at the stern and an engine high-water-temperature alarm. The vessel did not have, and was not required to have, an engineroom fire detection system. The master maneuvered the vessel into shallow water southeast of the bridge, anchored, and waited for firefighters. Before a fireboat from the Boston Fire Department's marine unit arrived, all the passengers safely transferred to the Laura, another commuter vessel in the vicinity. The fireboat extinguished the fire. The accident did not result in any serious injuries or fatalities. Damage, estimated at $800,000, was confined mostly to the engineroom.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire on board the Massachusetts was the ignition of diesel fuel by contact with a hot engine surface, which occurred because a fuel line attached to a fuel injector was not properly connected during engine maintenance by a contract mechanic. Contributing to the extent of the damage was the absence of a fixed fire detection and suppression system, which precluded the crew from receiving timely notification of the fire and which allowed the blaze to spread throughout the engineroom.
As a result of its investigation into the fire on board the Massachusetts, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following safety recommendation.
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
Require that all small passenger vessels certificated to carry more than 49 passengers, regardless of date of build or hull material, be fitted with an approved fire detection system and a fixed fire suppression system in their enginerooms. (M-07-1) (Supersedes Safety Recommendations M-02-6 and M-02-8.)