Marine Accident Report

Fire On Board U.S. Small Passenger Vessel
Express Shuttle II
Pithlachascotee River New Port Richey, Florida
October 17, 2004

NTSB Number MAR-06/02
NTIS Number PB2006-916402

Executive Summary:

On the morning of October 17, 2004, a fire broke out in the engineroom of the U.S. small passenger vessel Express Shuttle II while it was entering the mouth of the Pithlachascotee River near Port Richey, Florida. The shuttle was returning from the Gulf of Mexico, where it had ferried 78 passengers to an offshore casino boat, and was on its way back to the marina operated by the vessel’s owner, Paradise of Port Richey. Only the master and two deckhands were on board when the fire broke out.

None of the crewmembers activated the vessel’s fixed carbon dioxide fire suppression system. The crew attempted to fight the fire with portable extinguishers, but when the fire burned out of control, they prepared to abandon ship. A passing recreational boat rescued all three crewmembers. The master and one of the deckhands transferred to another company boat that took them ashore. The recreational boat took the other deckhand to shore, and an ambulance transported him to a local hospital. The deckhand was treated for smoke inhalation, held overnight for observation, and then released. Firefighters from Port Richey and Pasco County fought the blaze, but the vessel, valued at $800,000, was a total constructive loss.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire on board the Express Shuttle II was a fractured, improperly installed fuel injection line on the inboard side of the starboard engine that allowed diesel fuel to spray onto the engine and ignite. Contributing to the cause of the fire was the failure of Paradise of Port Richey to have a preventive maintenance program, which could have identified the company’s ongoing problem with the vessel’s fuel lines before a failed line led to the fire. Contributing to the extent of the damage were the vessel’s faulty fire detection system and the crew’s failure to employ proper marine firefighting techniques.

On the basis of its investigation, the Safety Board identified the following safety issues:

As a result of its investigation of the Express Shuttle II fire, the Safety Board makes recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard, Paradise of Port Richey, and Caterpillar, Inc.