Shipping Industry

Engine Room Fire Fighting: Explained With A Case Study

Fire is one of the most dreaded accidents on board. Engine Room Fires more so, because of the difficulty in actual Engine Room Fire Fighting exercises and also the presence of hazardous flammable vapors that always pose a risk to make the accident even more life threatening.
During training programs, we all have discussed at length and often come to varied conclusions about this issue. Should a single person who discovers the fire try to fight the fire all by himself /herself or call for additional help first?

Engine Room Fire Fighting

If is often said that if the fire is small, the person discovering it should attempt to extinguish using the nearest available FFA, AFTER raising the alarm. But should it NOT be possible to restrict / fight the fire, discoverer should report to the muster station as soon as possible.
But it must be emphasised although this procedure may reduce the response time and be successful to extinguish or restrict the fire before it spreads.
Valuable time may be wasted by just the solitary person trying to extinguish an established fire, instead of raising the alarm and alerting
others. More significantly, the solitary fire fighter might himself/herself become a casualty because of the accumulated smoke and fumes.
Fire Fighting
 Image Courtesy : SNS Nautical Services

The four stages in successful fire fighting are:

  • Find
  • Inform
  • Restrict
  • Extinguish
– Even if, only suspected, it is essential that the alarm is raised immediately so that the maximum fire fighting potential can be mustered at the shortest time.
Inform – Reporting of the location of the fire and either manual raising of alarm, or confirmation of an automatically generated alarm, and notifying the ECR /or bridge. Fire alarm switches / Manual call points are located at strategic points.
Restrict – Primary action of shutting off ventilation reduces of chances of additional air inflow, this is followed by application of suitable
Following Mental Checklist might help in the actual process :
1.      Are personnel at risk / Any casualty ?
2.     What has caught fire ? More combustible or flammable materials present in the vicinity ?
3.     What is the Spread / Reach of Fire ?
4.     How to stop air flow that is assisting the fire ?
5.     What methods of extinguishing should be used ?
6.     Any other additional techniques to be used like Boundary cooling ?
7.     How to efficiently use Manpower available to fight this fire ?
Make sure that fire is completely dowsed and no chance of re ignition is possible.

Case Study : M.V. Baltimar Boreas, Engine Room Fire Fighting

M.V. Baltimar Boreas
Image Courtesy :

Basic Overview of the Ship

Owned by Superseven Shipping, Bahamas, and Managed by Baltimar A/S, Denmark.
Built in 1989 by Zhonghua Shipyard, China and classed with Lloyd’s Register (LR).
Overall length of 91.30 m Moulded breadth of 14.71 m Depth of 7.62 m. Summer draught of 4.99 m Deadweight of 3188 tonnes.
A single cargo hold and two deck cranes located forward of the accommodation superstructure. The ship can carry containers and other general cargo and has a capacity of 256 TEU
Propulsive power MAN B&W 4L35MCE four cylinder, single acting, two-stroke diesel engine developing 1692 kW. The main engine drives a fixed pitch propeller which gives the ship a service speed of 12.5 knots.
Generators : Three MWM  TBD-234 V8 turbocharged eight cylinder diesel engine driven alternators developing 212 kW.
Feed pump supplies MDO from the service tank via flexible pipes (hoses) and a duplex filter to the fuel injection pump.
To keep the injection pump cool, more fuel than required is supplied with the excess fuel returning to the service tank via an overflow valve and hoses.
All of the system’s low pressure fuel lines are hoses with a braided wire outer layer and an internal fuel resistant rubber hose.
The high pressure side of the generator fuel system consists of solid drawn steel pipes. The injection pump supplies fuel via these high pressure pipes to each cylinder’s fuel injector.
Fuel Hose
Image Courtesy:
Independent Investigation of Baltimar Boreas Incident, Australian Transport
Safety Bureau
The ship’s navigation bridge is equipped with navigational equipment consistent with SOLAS requirements.
GMDSS also located on the bridge and two very high frequency (VHF) radios, the equipment includes two satellite communications (Inmarsat-C) terminals.
The Ship had been chartered by Ok Tedi Mining, Papua New Guinea Amongst the containers stowed on deck were 45 TEUs packed with a total of 945 tonnes of ammonium nitrate (explosive used in the mining industry)
Ship’s crew of 10 consisted of the master, two mates, two engineers, three able seamen, a fitter and a cook. The master was Ukrainian while the remaining crews were Filipino nationals. The two mates kept a watch-keeping routine of six hours on and six hours off. At sea, the master assisted them by keeping watch from 0800 to 1200. The two engineers worked in the engine room during normal daytime working hours with one of them on call at other times for UMS operation.
Fixed Fire system: Halon 1301 Fixed fire fighting system
Halon 1301 is the common name for ‘bromotrifluoromethane’
Colourless, Odourless and 5 times denser than Air    Low toxicity
Clean Agent, Leaves no Residue
Excellent Fire fighting agent
Identified as an Ozone Depleting Substance, thereby not used on new installations.
Some Flag States, including the Bahamas, permit its use for existing installations.

The Incident and Engine Room Fire Fighting

8 February 2007, 2305 Hours
Baltimar Boreas sailed from Kooragang berth number two, Newcastle, New South Wales.
The ship was bound for Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, with a cargo of 80 containers and two
truck bodies. Amongst the containers stowed on deck were 45 TEUs packed with a total of 945 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.
2345 Hours
After a normal passage out of Newcastle harbour, the pilot disembarked.
Weather conditions were good with a cloudy sky, clear visibility.
2355 Hours
The engineers completed their post departure checks before switching to UMS. Second Engineer was on call in case of alarms.
Well after midnight, satisfied that the passage was proceeding normally,
The Master told the second mate to observe his standing orders. The master then left the bridge.
0200 Hours
The second engineer went to the engine room for a final inspection before going to bed.
He found that everything appeared to be operating normally.
Second Engineer returned to his cabin by 0220
0250 Hours
Fire alarm panel on bridge activated, indicating a fire in the engine room on second deck. Second mate tried to telephone the engineers and the ECR but got no response.
Ecdis Display
Image Courtesy : Section of navigation chart
Aus 362, Independent Investigation of Baltimar Boreas Incident, Australian
Transport Safety Bureau
0253 Hours
Other zones on the fire alarm control panel had also activated. Second mate switched used the ship’s PA system to alert the crew.
Second engineer went to the engine room immediately and saw flames on top of number three
generator. He activated the manual fire alarm button and picked up a portable fire extinguisher to attempt fighting the fire.
He discharged the fire extinguisher towards the flames but could not restrict the fire.
He then retreated from the fire and escaped the engine room.
After shutting the engine room access door, he stopped the engine room ventilation fans.
0255 Hours
Second engineer used the telephone in the engine crew change room and reported the fire to the second mate on the bridge.
He then ran up the stairs to the main deck shouting ‘Fire! Fire!’ and met the chief engineer
on the way. The master went to the bridge and saw thick black smoke coming from the funnel.
He was informed by second engineer, about the engine room fire.
The chief mate arrived at his muster point on the main deck and supervised closing of all vents and ordered rigging of fire hoses.
Chief engineer
started the emergency generator and operated engine room oil tank quick closing
valve system and the emergency stops for pumps and fans.
0258 Hours
Master went to the main deck and received verbal reports from the emergency teams.
The master saw some sparks and flame coming out along with increase in amount of smoke from
the funnel. He thought about the explosive ammonium nitrate cargo on deck and quickly decided to use the engine room fixed fire extinguishing system (Halon system).
0305 Hours
All the crew had been accounted for and the master ordered the Halon to be released.
The second engineer then operated the Halon system.
0308 Hours
The master made a distress call on the VHF radio.
The ship was about five miles off Port Stephens.
The local volunteer coastal radio station acknowledged the ‘Mayday’ call and advised that a passing merchant ship, Takayama, would be requested to assist.
0312 Hours
The master sent a distress message via Inmarsat-C.
The Australian Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC) received the message including the ship’s automatically transmitted position, 32º40’S 152º26’E, at the time. Soon afterwards, the emergency generator stopped and the ship blacked out.
Engine Room Fire Fighting is here as follows:
0315 Hours
After clearing a blockage in the generator’s fuel line, the engineers restarted it.
The emergency fire pump was then started from the bridge.
The hottest areas were located on the starboard side of the accommodation
Fire hoses were used for boundary cooling.
Two crew members donned self contained breathing apparatus (BA)
0320 Hours
Chief mate led the two-man BA team to the engine room access door.
He waited by the door while the two men, equipped with portable fire extinguishers, entered
the engine room. They could see little through the thick smoke but discharged the extinguishers on some spot fires before exiting quickly.
0321 Hours
RCC had made a broadcast to shipping by relaying the distress message.
The distress relay provided the distress position, asking vessels within five hours of the position to report their ‘best ETA’ and their intentions to RCC
0325 Hours
Merchant Vessel Takayama arrived to assist and stood by three miles away due to the nature of
the cargo on board Baltimar Boreas. On board Baltimar Boreas, boundary cooling continued and the amount of smoke coming from the funnel vents diminished.
0340 Hours
Chief mate reported that the fire had been extinguished after leading the BA team inside.
At about this time, the water police vessel, WP24 Intrepid, had been despatched by the local police.
0344 Hours
RCC requested a tug from Newcastle with fire fighting capability to assist the ship
0350 Hours
Baltimar Boreas’s emergency generator stopped again.
As a result, the fire pump stopped and boundary cooling ceased.
The ship’s emergency batteries provided power for the emergency lights and the communication equipment.
0351 Hours
Master reported to RCC that the fire was extinguished and cancelled his distress message.
0410 Hours
BA team entered the engine room again. They discharged a couple of portable fire extinguishers on suspected hot spots before leaving the smoke filled engine room. Ventilators were then opened to allow the smoke to disperse.
0505 Hours
The chief engineer and three crew members, not wearing BA, entered the engine room.
Ten minutes later, the chief engineer reported that number three generator had been badly damaged by the fire and that the electrical cables above it were burnt.
Engine Room
Image Courtesy
: No 3 Generator and Cables above after the Fire, Independent Investigation of
Baltimar Boreas Incident, Australian Transport Safety Bureau
0518 Hours
Master confirmed to RCC that there were no injuries to the crew and that no fire fighting assistance was required.
0615 Hours
WP24 Intrepid arrived in the vicinity of Baltimar Boreas and confirmed the ship’s status.
Merchant Vessel Takayama was allowed to resume its passage.
WP24 Intrepid then stood by in case any assistance, such as a crew evacuation, was required before the tug Wickham from Newcastle, responding to the RCC request, arrived in the area.
0640 Hours
Chief engineer had started number two generator and determined that it was impossible to supply power to the main switchboard due to the seriously damaged electrical cables. The master reported the situation to the ship’s managers.
1030 Hours
A tow line had been connected for the 40 mile passage back to Newcastle and WP24 Intrepid was then stood down.
1920 Hours
With an additional tug assisting, the ship berthed at Kooragang berth number two.
The port authority required the ammonium nitrate containers to be discharged and a tug to attend the disabled ship throughout the discharge of its dangerous cargo
2110 Hours
Cargo discharge was started with a shore crane. The ship’s emergency generator had been restarted but it only provided power for some essential services.
February 2007, 1233
Cargo discharge was completed. The ship was then shifted, under tow, to Dyke berth number one to undergo repairs.

Causes of the Accident

Failed Flexible Hoses
The two fuel hoses showed clearly visible signs of damage and failure.
One of the failed hoses was fitted between the feed pump and the duplex filter (filter
hose) and the other hose led from the overflow valve to the fixed return line (return hose).
The return hose was found in two pieces. It had apparently separated when a temporary repair joining the two sections of hose
had failed. Analysis of the filter hose confirmed that it had failed due to mechanical rubbing or chafing
over a long period of time. The failure of one of the two hoses identified would have provided the fuel for the fire.
Leaking diesel oil from a failed hose would have sprayed over the top of the generator and some of it would have vaporised after making contact with hot surfaces on the generator engine.
The mist of vaporised diesel would then have been ignited by a very hot surface at a temperature greater than the auto-ignition temperature of diesel oil. Very hot surfaces on the generator engine were shielded by lagging and metal sheathing and included the engine exhaust pipe, manifold and turbocharger.
Flexible Hoses
Courtesy : Independent Investigation of Baltimar Boreas
Incident, Australian Transport Safety Bureau

Design of Funnel Vent Fire DampersThe Vessel’s funnel vent fire dampers could NOT be closed remotely, with provision only for physically closing them locally.

Access was via a ladder (1) on the port side of the funnel, then by holding a rail while standing on another rail (2) and moving to the platform (3) on the aft part of the funnel.
Here, while standing on the platform about 12 m above the main deck, the two damper flaps could be closed shut.
Furthermore, closing the flaps required moving across an open vent at least once. With the emission of smoke, sparks and flame from the vents during the fire, closing the damper flaps was practically impossible.
This design flaw led exponential increase in the Damage due to the inability to isolate Air from the Fire.
Funnel Of Ship, Engine Room Fire Fighting
Courtesy : Independent Investigation of Baltimar Boreas
Incident, Australian Transport Safety Bureau

Final Findings as per Reports by Australian Transport Safety Bureau

• Long term damage due to rubbing and chafing contributed to the failure of a flexible fuel hose on the number three diesel generator and provided the initial source of fuel for the fire.
• Diesel oil from the failed flexible fuel hose vaporised and then ignited on a very hot surface on number three generator, probably near the end of the heat shielding of the turbocharger exhaust gas inlet.
• Maintenance of the flexible fuel hoses was inadequate. Inappropriate temporary repairs had been made and hoses longer than specified by the manufacturer had been used in the past. This had not been noted during previous surveys, audits and inspections.
• The generator manufacturer’s instruction book provided no guidance for the maintenance or routine replacement of the flexible fuel hoses.
Even The Vessel’s Safety Management System (SMS) provided no guidance for the maintenance or replacement of the generator flexible fuel hoses.
• Design of the fuel system was not in accordance to IMO guidelines which explicitly states that flexible hoses should be as short as practicable, their use be limited to only positions / locations necessary to accommodate relative movement in engine components
• While the fixed fire extinguishing system’s instruction manual provided guidance with regard to the minimum time to allow before considering entry after the release, the master and crew entered the engine room too soon after the Halon was released.
• The emission of smoke, sparks and flame from funnel ventilators just after the engine room fire started effectively cut off access to their locally operated fire dampers which prevented them from being closed. The closing arrangements for the ship’s funnel ventilators, therefore, did not comply with the intent of the relevant provisions of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS)
• The timely and correct initial response of Baltimar Boreas’s master and crew, and the actions of the second engineer in particular, resulted in the fire being successfully extinguished.
 • The Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s response to, and management of, the incident from ashore was timely, well managed and appropriate.
Therefore, with proper training and attitude coupled with efficient co operation between the participating authorities ensure that even the worst of cases can be tackled without casualties or injuries. DO you have a similar experience to share ? Let us know in the comments !
Disclaimer: All information and data related to case involving MV Baltimar Boreas have been obtained for merely non commercial educational purposes.

Original Publication: ATSB Transport Safety Investigation Report, Marine Occurrence Investigation no. 236 Final version
Arnav Bhattacharya
Hi this is Arnav Bhattacharya. Marine Engineering Officer. Wishes to be this Generations' Yevgeny Zamyatin. Likes to dabble in Poetry, Literature, Art and Cinema. Lifelong Obsession with all things Nerdy.

One Reply to “Engine Room Fire Fighting: Explained With A Case Study

  1. I have been checking out many of your posts and it’s clever stuff. I will surely bookmark your site.

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