An incident has been reported to IMCA in which there was a small fire in a below-decks space on an offshore wind turbine crew transfer vessel (CTV). The incident occurred whilst the CTV was near a wind turbine tower, with the passengers working as engineers on the turbine tower.
The vessel master smelled burning plastic in the wheelhouse and went to investigate in the space under the wheelhouse, while a crewman opened panels in the back of the console. When the panels in the console were opened, grey/white smoke was seen. Flames were observed coming through the dashboard vent in the wheelhouse. Dry powder fire extinguishers were deployed into the console and below-decks space. The windows in the wheelhouse were closed and there was some smoke, but the fire appeared extinguished and there were no further flames. The local coastguard were called and it was reported that there had been a fire onboard and that assistance was required.
Shortly thereafter, just before the arrival of the lifeboat, smoke was seen from the underdeck hatch and the panel and it was thought that the fire had re-ignited. A COâ‚‚ fire extinguisher was discharged through the access hatch; vessel electrical systems were isolated, and the master and crewman evacuated to the lifeboat. After a wait of about 15 minutes the vessel master and a lifeboat crewman returned to the CTV with a fire extinguisher. No further smoke or flames were observed. The CTV returned to port under its own power, escorted by the lifeboat.
Although there were no injuries, both the vessel master and the crewman inhaled some smoke and powder from the extinguishers they reported feeling ‘chesty’ and had headaches, but no further medical advice was sought. There was some damage to fittings and equipment on the CTV.
An investigation noted the following:
- At the time of the incident, several items had been stored in the underdeck space including a number of solid buoyancy lifejackets, a stretcher in its valise, a chart canister, a vacuum cleaner and three immersion suits in storage bags. One suit and its protective bag suffered burn damage;
- The main control cable conduit had been burned through. The exterior sheath of the main control cable itself had been burned although the internal sheathed strands appeared undamaged;
- Flexible hoses to the windscreen demisters in the wheelhouse had burn damage;
- Signage in the form of laminated paper sheets had been secured in several locations within the underdeck space. Some of these signs were damaged in the fire. Charred remains of such sheets were found in the area;
- The main discharge trunking from the heater system was seen to have become disconnected from the heater. The crew had commented that prior to the incident, the heating in the wheelhouse had been erratic although the console had been warm, occasionally hot;
- Electrical engineers examined the control cable and system but found no faults that would have caused the cable to ignite. Damage to the cable appeared to be mainly external indicating a separate heat source;
- The root cause of the fire appeared to have been a detached outlet hose from the electrical heater which allowed hot air to melt and possibly ignite the outer casing on the main control cable. Burning or molten material from this cable then dripped onto the laminated sheet immediately beneath the cable, and possibly the bagged immersion suit underneath. The burning materials would have fallen onto the bagged immersion suit and the flames subsequently burned through the demister conduits immediately above;
- The underdeck storage area and all electrical connectors and circuit boards were heavily coated in powder from the fire extinguishers.
It was noted that the actions of the vessel crew during and after the incident were positive and commendable. Attempts were made to deal with the fire in a safe and practical manner and the relevant authorities were informed although there was some delay in locating the out of hours contact number for the client.
The following recommendations were made:
- Heater connections on other vessels to be checked to ensure all hoses and connections are secure and in good condition;
- Storage of items in the underdeck space to be prohibited pending a review of alternative arrangements;
- Use of laminated sheets in confined spaces and/or near heat sources to be prohibited;
- The use of dry powder extinguishers behind the wheelhouse console, whilst effective, resulted in considerable contamination of electrical systems and components delaying the return to service of the vessel. Ready availability and use of COâ‚‚ extinguishers would obviate this problem;
- Access to the interior of the wheelhouse console and the underdeck area was difficult and a review of firefighting provision for this space should be undertaken;
- Contact details of clients, including out of hours contact, should be readily available in case of emergencies.
Social Media and Information Handling
There were two communications-related aspects of this incident which are of particular interest to members:
- During the incident there was communication by radio and mobile phone between the engineers working on the turbine tower and the vessel crew, which interfered with handling of the incident, particularly during communication with the local coastguard and lifeboat;
- The engineers on the tower took photographs of the incident and some of these were uploaded to social media before the CTV was in port following the incident.
The contractor involved held a review of policies on the use of social media and information handling.
Members may wish to refer to the following similar incidents (key words: fire, wiring):
- Generator fire incident
- IMCA SF 10/14 – All incidents in this safety flash are fires.
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