NTSB Says Improperly Installed Fuel Tubes Caused Fire In Engine Room Of Container Ship Off California


An improperly installed section of the main engine fuel oil return hose caused an engine room fire aboard a container ship off Santa Barbara, Calif., the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday.

The fire aboard the M/V President Eisenhower started on April 28, 2021 while the ship was transiting the Santa Barbara Channel on a voyage to Oakland, California with a crew of 22.

The crew extinguished the fire using the fixed carbon dioxide fire extinguishing system in the engine room. As a result of the fire, the ship lost propulsion and drifted for several hours before being towed to the Port of Los Angeles. We were following the ship as it drifted to shore and was later rescued by a tug.

No pollution or injuries were reported, but damage to the ship totaled approximately $8.22 million.

Screenshot of President Eisenhower’s location at 11:42 a.m. PDT, April 28, 2021. Credit: MarineTraffic.com

Marine Investigation Report 22/15 details the NTSB investigation of the incident.

A watch crew member noticed smoke coming from an open engine room hatch early in the morning of 28 April. Two crew members donned firefighter gear and attempted to use portable fire extinguishers to put out the fire. Realizing the fire was “too much”, the captain decided to release carbon dioxide into the engine room.

The day before the vessel sailed, the second engineer installed a new section of steel fuel oil return pipe for the main engine. A post-fire examination showed that a compression fitting at the end of the newly installed section of the fuel return pipe had become disconnected, causing the ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel the engine was burning to spray. CCTV footage from the ship showed diesel fuel splattering around 30 minutes before the fire started. Within a minute of the fire starting, cardboard and wooden boxes containing spare parts, which were stored on a deck above the main engine and next to the auxiliary boiler, caught fire.

Main engine CCTV screenshots showing fuel splatter in area around no. 5 cylinders about 30 minutes before the fire, when the fire starts and progress. Note: CCTV timestamps are four hours ahead. Source: APL

Investigators found that an unshielded and uninsulated exhaust valve compensator flange acted as an ignition source for the atomized diesel fuel. An examination of the disconnected fuel oil return tubing and the defective compression fitting revealed that the sealing ring of the compression fitting was not sufficiently pressed onto the steel tubing.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the fire in the engine room was that a crew member had insufficiently pressed a compression fitting ferrule while installing a fuel oil return hose for the cylinder of a main engine, allowing one end of the hose to disconnect and spray fuel oil onto an unshielded vicinity. and uninsulated cylinder exhaust component.

The NTSB further identified two lessons learned from this investigation:

  1. Early oil leak detection systems are a valuable tool that can be used to prevent fires in engine rooms. Video analytics technology is designed to use standard CCTV video to detect fuel mist and spray in real time and alert the crew before ignition and fire occurs.
  2. President Eisenhower’s crew effectively contained the spread of a fire in the main engine room by removing fuel and oxygen sources, cooling boundaries, and communicating effectively. This shows the importance of training based on realistic scenarios, including engine room emergencies, which involve shutdown of machinery, fuel oil, lubricating oil and ventilation systems, as well as boundary monitoring, to quickly contain and extinguish engine room fires that can spread. to other spaces and/or result in loss of propulsion and electrical power.

Marine Investigation Report 22/15 is on the NTSB website.


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