The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) has published its report on the investigation of the engine-room fire on board – and later total loss of – fishing vessel Amy Harris III south of the Isle of Arran on 16 January, 2013. By continuing the exchange of incident reports between all sectors of the marine industry, synergies can be drawn with the world of superyacht crew and important safety lessons can be learned.

The incident occurred when the skipper of Amy Harris III discovered a fire in the engine room. The crew’s initial attack, which consisted of a bucket of water being thrown over the rapidly growing fire, was unsuccessful. Furthermore, the doors and a hatch that were left open allowed smoke to rapidly spread forcing the skipper and his three crew onto the deck and consequently no further attempts were made to suppress or control the fire. The crew were airlifted off the vessel by rescue helicopter soon afterwards and the vessel was subsequently towed into Campbel Town where the fire was extinguished. Amy Harris III was later declared a constructive total loss.

During the rescue operation, the mate decided to soak his hat with water, place is over his nose and mouth, enter the wheelhouse and turn the vessel into wind in an attempt to aid the helicopter crew. “The mate’s decision to steer the vessel’s head to wind served no purpose and should have been prevented,” the MAIB report concludes. “The wheelhouse was known to be smoke-logged, and re-entering it without the use of breathing apparatus severely compromised his safety. Holding his soaked hat across his face provided him with virtually no protection against smoke. In his urgency to get back into fresh air the mate left the external galley door open, which provided an uninterrupted oxygen supply for the fire. This, coupled with the leaking diesel fuel oil, only served to escalate the fire.”

"The skipper’s initial action of throwing a bucket of water over what was initially a small oil fire was a prime example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

The report stated that the most likely cause of the fire was the ignition of diesel fuel oil, which had leaked from a flexible pipe supplying the auxiliary engine’s fuel lift pump. As a result, the owner has been recommended to do the following: properly support pipework to prevent fatigue failure; ensure crews are fully conversant with the emergency equipment and conduct monthly emergency drills; properly maintain emergency equipment; conduct risk assessments; and, finally, improve housekeeping standards. Recommendations have also been made to the skipper to attend a refresher fire-fighting course, and to the Sea Fish Industry Authority to test students’ knowledge of fixed fire-fighting systems in its Basic Fire Fighting Course assessment.

Speaking to Adrian McCourt, managing director at Watkins Superyachts, he acknowledged that important lessons could be drawn for the superyacht industry. “Fortuitously, there was no injury or loss of life,” he explains. “The cause of the fire itself was probably attributable to poor housekeeping and/or maintenance standards but made worse by the crew’s lack of preparedness. The skipper’s initial action of throwing a bucket of water over what was initially a small oil fire was a prime example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. It is disappointing but probably appropriate that the MAIB should criticise the mate’s attempt to turn the boat into the wind to aid their aerial rescue, but it did indeed expose himself to further risk. The report does not state if this ultimately had any impact on their safe rescue.”

The full investigation report can be read here.