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New TAIC Report On Cargo Ship Fire, Napier 2020

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission has published its final report on the response to a seven-day fire on board the cargo ship Kota Bahagia just before Christmas 2020.

The Commission has reiterated two recommendations it made in 2018 to Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ), and issued one recommendation to the ship’s operator, Pacific International Lines.

On 18 December 2020, the Kota Bahagia was discharging a high-value cargo of wind turbine components at Napier Port. Shore-based workers were on board doing hot work with gas-cutting equipment to remove steel brackets that were welded to the hold floor to keep the cargo in place.

The Acting Chief Investigator of Accidents, Naveen Kozhuppakalam, says molten material from gas-cutting hot work very likely caused the fibre-glass cargo to catch fire.

Responding to the fire, Fire and Emergency NZ took charge of the unified command team – the ship’s crew, FENZ firefighters, and the Port authorities. The ship’s master followed FENZ’s orders and evacuated people from the ship.

“The ship’s master knew that the crucial firefighting tactic was to close the cargo hold cover and release carbon dioxide into the hold. To close the cover, the crew needed to go back on board to hoist a crane wire and container spreader out of the hold,” said Mr Kozhuppakalam.

“The master tried to convey these tactics to the FENZ officer in charge, but valuable time was lost because FENZ staff didn’t initially give due regard to the master’s command status and knowledge of the ship and its systems.

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“The Commission found that suppression of the fire was further delayed because the parties involved lacked a shared and consistent understanding of each other’s roles and objectives.”

It took seven days to extinguish the fire. There was extensive damage to ship’s hold and the cargo. There were no fatalities or serious injuries.

The response to the fire on the Kota Bahagia revealed safety issues that were similar to those identified by the Commission in its November 2018 report on a fire on the Kokopo Chief in Port of Tauranga. Accepting TAIC’s recommendations in that report, Fire and Emergency NZ indicated that they would complete reviews in 2019. These reviews were not complete when the Kota Bahagia fire occurred in December 2020.

“To completely implement the Commission’s 2018 recommendations, Fire and Emergency NZ needs to urgently update its training regime to include the latest procedures and guidance for fighting fire onboard ships,” said Mr Kozhuppakalam.

“The Commission welcomes Fire and Emergency’s safety actions so far, which include new documents that the status and authority of the master; new procedures for fighting fires on ships; and work with ports to formalise firefighting collaboration.

The Commission has made one new recommendation – that Pacific International Lines take further steps to ensure that the safety precautions prescribed in its Safety and Emergency Manual are implemented effectively on board its vessels. TAIC welcomes safety actions taken by Pacific International Lines to date but believes that further action is still required to meet the intent of this recommendation.

While the Commission identified no safety issues with Napier Port’s response to the Kota Bahagia fire, we welcome Napier Port’s proactive safety actions:/5.16-5.17. Its fire hydrants and firefighting equipment have distinctive new markings, and the Port strengthened relationship with FENZ includes formalised firefighting tactics, site orientation and emergency simulation exercises.

The principal purpose of the Transport Accident Investigation Commission is to determine the circumstances and causes of selected aviation, marine, and rail accidents and incidents with a view to avoiding similar occurrences in the future, rather than to ascribe blame to any person.

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