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TAIC Calls On Maritime NZ To Address An Urgent, Potentially Lethal, Safety Issue With Commercial Boat Fuel Systems

The Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) is calling on Maritime New Zealand to address an urgent, potentially lethal, safety issue with commercial boat fuel systems.

The urgent safety issue is that Maritime New Zealand’s survey system does not adequately assure the integrity and safety of fuel systems because the rules do not require that the entire fuel system is inspected. TAIC is recommending that Maritime NZ improve its system for boat surveys and alert marine surveyors and the broader sector to the importance inspecting a vessel’s complete fuel system.

TAIC makes the call in a preliminary report during its ongoing inquiry into the capsize of the i-Catcher, an 8-metre aluminium pontoon boat, at Goose Bay near Kaikōura on 10 September 2022.

The vessel capsized after contact with what initial inquiries suggest was a whale. The skipper and five passengers were rescued from the upturned hull. Police divers retrieved five other passengers from the air pocket inside the boat, deceased.

Evidence reviewed by the Commission’s medical consultant identified that all deceased passengers showed symptoms of petrol exposure, consistent with inhalation and absorption of petrol fumes. Petrol was on the water surface in the air pocket. Exposure to concentrated petrol fumes in a confined space affects the cardiac and central nervous systems and can rapidly lead to confusion, loss of consciousness and sudden death.

Chief Investigator of Accidents Naveen Kozhuppakalam says the petrol had almost certainly leaked from flaws in the fuel system.

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“A pipe connected to the secondary fuel tank vent hose had a hole that was the main source of leaked fuel,” said Mr Kozhuppakalam. “It presented a hazard that risked fire or explosion if fuel leaked when filling the tank, or risked fumes in the air pocket if the vessel overturned.

“The secondary vent hose was also ineffective because it didn’t vent to outside air; instead, it vented into the sealed metal tubing of a frame fitted to the rear of the boat.

“And there was another leak from the primary fuel tank vent hose where it joined the fuel tank and should have been secured with a hose clamp

“In i-Catcher’s thirteen years of commercial service, it was surveyed by five different marine surveyors. The Commission has yet to identify when the hole appeared, but not one survey report shows inspections of the fuel system below the deck plate, or any alert that the secondary vent tube did not actually vent to outside air.

“Surveyors are more likely to discover deficiencies if they are required to inspect the whole fuel system as a critical item – not just the parts that are easy to get to.

“This is about more than the i-Catcher; it is system-wide, nationwide because there are hundreds of boats like i-Catcher in our commercial fleet, tens of thousands more in the recreational fleet. And everyone on board a boat deserves for it to be safe.

The Commission is continuing with a full inquiry into this accident. A final report, setting out findings, safety issues and further recommendations, if any, will be issued at the completion of this inquiry. Lines of inquiry include, but are not limited to: cause of capsize; survey systems; life jacket education; and emergency response to maritime accidents.

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