It is a drum that has been beaten so hard now that the skin has worn thin and the holes that have appeared allow crucial resonance to become wasted noise. When it comes to training, preparation and best practice on board superyachts it seems that advice occasionally falls on deaf ears. However, occasionally a story appears and everyone suddenly decides to listen. Fortunately the cast of this story were prepared, proactive and timely in their response. spoke with Adrian McCourt about an incident on board a merchant ship, how the superyacht industry can learn from their counterpart’s professionalism and how our industry must accept its own fallibility.

Just after 04:00, whilst under way, a smoke sensor was triggered on board a merchant ship; a fire had broken out from a safety locker containing life saving and fire-fighting equipment. A closed circuit of non-rechargeable lithium batteries, it is believed, caused the fire - the kind that are often used in lifejackets and contain metallic lithium, which combusts when in contact with water. The report states:

‘Based on evidence at the scene, it seems likely that the expired batteries – although such lights are obviously designed to activate when in contact with water – old or damaged casings combined with ‘sweat’ within the unventilated plastic bag with residual moisture from years of being exposed in an external lock could have caused the ignition.’

The fire had taken hold and the thick smoke hindered the initial crew response. Accommodation fans were halted to reduce the spread of the flame and the crew quickly reorganised. Using portable CO2 extinguishers the fire was put out; the crew have since been praised for their ‘prompt and professional emergency response’. The situation was brought under control in a mere 15 minutes.

Adrian McCourt, MD of Watkins Superyachts spoke to about the lessons superyacht crew could take from their counterparts’ professionalism, which he said was “sobering really, when my colleagues and I recently ran an exercise on an offshore installation where it took 15 minutes just to muster the crew in broad daylight.”

In this instance the crew were both organised and fortunate. A mixture of good preparation and a lack of combustible material allowed the blaze to be brought under control swiftly and without major damage of vessel or personnel. The only damage sustained was to the adjacent bulkheads. McCourt continues, “It is worth thinking about – this is the middle of the night - are you ready to deal with fires at any time of the day or night? Do you have the right numbers of trained crew and equipment to deal with it?”

 “We have studied fires on yachts at our company for years - the one theme that pervades all is that they always come from unexpected places. What can be more benign than a yacht underway at night with everything ticking over and working fine? It’s these times when people must be professional enough to act.”

The incident stated above should act as a warning and example to the superyacht industry. Safety checks and measures are in place for good reason, but trouble can come from the most unexpected of places. Professional crew and the knowledge that you may well be the unfortunate one in a thousand must pervade the pleasantries of an idyllic surrounding.

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