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 the
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.
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 long, 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 the 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.
Aerial photo of the Caribbean Fantasy’s starboard side
during the final stage of
abandonment, with its starboard anchor down. Gray
smoke is coming out of the two blue funnels, and an orange Coast Guard helicopter
is hovering over the blue upper
deck of the ship. (Photo by U.S.
NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt during
Tuesday’s board meeting on the 2016 fire aboard the Caribbean Fantasy. “The
recommendations that we issued today, if acted upon, will improve marine
safety,” Sumwalt said. “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.’’ (NTSB photo by Eric Weiss)
The synopsis, findings and all
recommendations related to the accident are available online at https://goo.gl/4azkER
full report will be available in a few weeks at ntsb.gov.