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Inadequate protection put crew and ship in jeopardy



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COMMONWfcALTH DEPARTMENT OF

T R A N S P O R T A N D

R E G I O N A L S E R V I C E S

D003/ 98 % .

16 December 1998

INADEQUATE FIRE PROTECTION PUT CREW AND SHIP IN JEOPARDY

A lack of fire protection standards contributed to the rapid spread and the intense heat of a fire aboard the Taiwanese bulk carrier Ming Mercy off Port Kembla on 9 August 1997, according to a report released today.

An investigation by the Marine Incident Investigation Unit of the Department of Transport and Regional Services found that the spread of the fire was so rapid that the bridge had to be evacuated, cutting of access to the ship’s main VHP transmitter and

other radio equipment.

Shore authorities were unable to contact the ship and the fire was reported by a passing ship and confirmed by the crew of a pilot boat.

The New South Wales Fire Brigade responded to the call and used a tug and a helicopter to reach the ship. They brought the fire under control and extinguished it after a ten hour battle with the heat and flames.

Despite the extent and intensity of the fire only one person was injured - the mess boy who fell down a ship’s ladder, breaking his ankle.

The investigation found that, although the fire destroyed many clues, there was a strong possibility that the fire started in improvised wiring in a crew member’s cabin. Such wiring was common throughout the ship’s accommodation.

The ship’s electrical voltage was 110 volts, which draws a higher current making any tightly coiled cables into actual heating coils, generating four times as much heat as a system on 240 volts.

The ship’s accommodation was not fitted with any fire detection system or any automatic sprinklers. It seems that the fire was well established when the ship’s mess boy first detected it.

The MIIU’s report describes the ship as a non-convention ship. The Ming Mercy was built to classification society rules which were equivalent to the provisions of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention at the time of building. However, the ship entered service just four months before the international requirement to fit fire detection

systems in accommodation areas came into force.

The report also questions the effectiveness of the fire retardant chemicals used in the plywood bulkheads to make them comply with class requirements. The report considers that any fire retardant qualities deteriorated over the life of the ship.

Copies of the report can be obtained from the Marine Incident Investigation Unit, GPO Box 594, Canberra ACT 2601, telephone: 02 6274 6088.