WA ship fire exposes DFES weakness

A review of an-out-of control blaze aboard a bulk carrier at Australia’s largest port has exposed “limited” capability within Western Australia’s fire authority.

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Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators found there had been misunderstandings between crew and other agencies involved in tackling the fire in July, which lasted 12 hours until it burnt itself out.

The fire started in the engine room of the South Korean-owned Marigold while berthed in Port Hedland when fuel spilt from a pipe onto a hot generator surface.

Compounding the emergency, some fire doors were held open by wire and rope, and there were multiple failures within the ship’s fire suppression system.

Among the litany of other failures identified by the ATSB, the Marigold’s shipboard procedures for crew fire drills and safety training had not been properly implemented.

The ATSB also recommended that DFES take action to address its “limited professional firefighting capability” in Port Hedland and other regional ports, which it considered a safety issue.

As a result of the Port Hedland incident and one other ship fire in Fremantle, the state’s maritime transport emergency plan has been revised to include formal incident controller delegations.

In addition to this, DFES – which was issued with five recommendations on addressing shipboard fires – has begun new maritime firefighting training programs.

BHP Billiton, which was the operator of the ship’s berth, now provides international shore connections at its berths to improve water supply to a ship’s fire line in emergencies.