The National Transportation Safety Board determined today that the probable cause of the fire on board the Shuttle Express II was a fractured, improperly installed fuel-injection line on the inboard side of the starboard engine that allowed diesel fuel to spray onto the engine and ignite. Contributing to the cause of the fire was the failure of Paradise of Port Richey, the operator of the vessel, to have a preventive maintenance program, which could have identified the company's ongoing problems with the vessel's fuel lines before the failed line led to the fire. "Proper training on the replacement of the fuel line would have prevented this fire, which could have endangered the lives of the passengers who had just departed the boat minutes earlier," said Mark V. Rosenker, Acting Chairman of the NTSB.
On October 17, 2004, a fire broke out in the engineroom of the Express Shuttle II in the Pithlachascotee River near Port Richey, Florida. The U.S. small passenger vessel was returning from the Gulf of Mexico, where it had ferried 78 passengers to a casino boat offshore. The master and two deckhands were the only persons onboard when the fire occurred. After attempting to fight the fire with portable fire extinguishers, the crew abandoned the vessel. A passing recreational boater rescued the crew. One member of the crew was treated at the local hospital for smoke inhalation. The boat, valued at $800,000, was a total loss.
Contributing to the extent of the damage were the vessel's faulty fire detection system and the crew's failure to employ proper marine firefighting techniques.
Recommendations made by the Safety Board as a result of this investigation include:
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
Establish firefighting training requirements for crewmembers onboard all small passenger vessels.
Require that Officers-in-Charge, Marine Inspection, before issuing a certificate of inspection to a small passenger vessel that is required to have a fire detection system, verify that all system components are approved for use in fire detection systems and that the circuits of the system are electrically supervised.
To Paradise of Port Richey:
Develop and implement a preventive maintenance and inspection program for systems affecting the safe operation of vessels, including the hull and the mechanical and electrical systems.
Develop and implement a training program in marine firefighting for your crewmembers.
To Caterpillar, Inc.:
Revise the service manual for your marine engines to give specific instructions on how to replace a single fuel line and on where fuel line clamps should be located.
A synopsis of the Board's report including a complete listing of conclusions and recommendations is available on the Marine Publications page of the Board's website. The Board's full report will be available on the website in a few weeks.