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Report issued on US fishing vessel that caught fire at Pago harbor

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Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The “probable cause” of a fire on board the US fishing vessel "Cape Cod", while at the Port of Pago Pago last year, was an “undetermined electrical ignition source near electrical distribution cabling in the lower engine room,” according to the US National Transportation Safety Board accident report, released last Friday.

NTSB investigated the fire, which occurred around 3:30p.m. on May 20, 2018. NTSB investigators worked closely with their counterparts from the US Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment American Samoa and the US Coast Guard Honolulu in the investigation.

The report says that the fishing vessel — whose owner/ operators are Cape Fisheries Holding LP and Tri Marine Fishing Management — experienced an engine room fire while moored in Pago Pago Harbor. The vessel was in port to offload a cargo of fish at the Samoa Tuna Packing dock with 20 crew members on board.

“The fire caused extensive damage to the engine room, including generators and electrical distribution systems, before crew members extinguished it using the fixed firefighting system,” the report says. “No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $650,000.”

The report states that around 3:36p.m., while the assistant engineer and the electrician were in the engine room, a fire started above the offline no. 2 generator. They tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire with handheld extinguishers but were forced to retreat due to smoke. They alerted the other crew members. who were on board the vessel.

“Having donned self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), the crew made another attempt to extinguish the fire but were again forced to retreat, this time due to intense heat,” according to NTSB, adding that after closing the doors and ventilation dampers and accounting for everyone on board, the crew released carbon dioxide into the space using the Cape Cod’s fixed firefighting system.

The fire was contained to the engine room and about an hour after the fixed firefighting system was activated, local first responders and Cape Cod crew in SCBAs entered the space to confrm that the fire was out.

“No injuries were reported, and no pollution ensued,” the report says, noting that the local US Coast Guard investigators were on scene the same day and restricted the vessel from sailing until repairs were made and firefighting systems were serviced.

NTSB said the Public Safety Department’s Fire Bureau issued a July 13, 2018 report, and “attributed the fire to radiated heat from damaged engine exhaust insulation.”

“However, the lagging on exhaust piping had been renewed in the recent maintenance period, which had ended only about 5 months before the fire,” the NTSB report points out.

“Moreover, the only engine running when the fire broke out was portside generator no. 1, opposite from the fire. Starboard generator nos. 2 and 3, each with separate exhaust piping, had not been run since the previous day. It is therefore unlikely that any flammable or combustible material would ignite from contact with offline engines or exhaust surfaces.”

(According to USCG information, “lagging” insulates hot surfaces such as engine exhaust piping from combustible surfaces, such as wood or fiber-reinforced plastic, or from flammable liquids including oil and fuel leaks.)

“Based on the location of the damage in the engine room, the intensity of the fire observed in the CCTV footage (from on board the vessel), and the lack of operating machinery near generator no. 2, investigators concluded that the fire likely resulted from an electrical source and was fueled by electrical cable housing material, control boxes, light fixtures, and paint,” the report says.

It also points out that vessel had recently undergone extensive work in the engine room, although with no subsequent regulatory or classification society dry dock exam or sea trial.

The report noted that the vessel had been in a Mazatlan, Mexico shipyard from March to December 2017 for routine maintenance, including replacement of exhaust piping lagging on all three generators, the main engine, and the bow thruster. The vessel had returned to service and made four fishing trips prior to the accident.

(Samoa News should point out that the Cape Cod fire is separate from the purse seiner Jeanette fire last December — that investigation is still ongoing).