National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
(Washington, DC) -- A fatal fire aboard a fishing vessel in Alaska prompted the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to issue a series of safety recommendations aimed at improving fire safety on about 250 domestic fishing and processing ships that operate in and around U.S. waters.
Currently there are no requirements for fire detection and suppression equipment, fire hoses, fire mains and structural fire protection aboard commercial fishing vessels carrying more than 16 persons and built or refurbished before Sept. 15, 1991. Minimal fire safety requirements exist for ships built after that date.
In its recommendations, the NTSB urged the U.S. Coast Guard to work with the National Fire Protection Association to develop national fire safety standards for commercial fishing industry vessels, including structural fire protection standards and fire detection and suppression systems in ships' accommodation areas. Then the standards should be adopted into regulations, the NTSB said.
The Safety Board also urged the Coast Guard to promptly seek to change the law to require the phasing-in of fire safety regulations to apply to all existing fishing industry vessels that carry more than 16 persons and to publicize the circumstances of a 1995 fatal fire aboard the Alaska Spirit.
At about 2 a.m. on May 27, 1995, the U.S. fish processing vessel Alaska Spirit caught fire and burned while moored alongside a dock at the Seward Marine Industrial Center, Seward, Alaska. Firefighters extinguished the fire at 11 a.m. The master of the vessel died, and damage to the vessel was estimated at $3 million.
The ship, operated by the Fishing Company of Alaska, Inc., usually carried a crew of 48. It was moored in Seward on May 24 for repairs, maintenance and preparation for the next fishing voyage scheduled for July 1. Eight crew members stayed on board to accomplish the work.
At a public meeting, the NTSB determined that the probable cause of the fire was the failure of the Fishing Company of Alaska, Inc. to address inadequate fire safety conditions and practices on the vessel.
Contributing to the severity of the damage and the loss of life was the lack of fire safety standards for commercial fishing industry vessels, the Board said.
The most likely fire ignition source was an electrical cooking pot in the assistant fish master's room, accident investigators said. The room had been locked and unattended for several days. Investigators also said a sprinkler (suppression) system would probably have extinguished the fire in its early stages, impeded the spread of fire in the accommodation spaces, and possibly prevented the loss of life.
Adding to the fire's severity, the Safety Board said, was the company's lack of written guidance to check the fire safety of vacant rooms, lack of smoke detectors, incompatible fire hoses and hydrants, and lack of realistic fire drills.
To correct these problems, the NTSB issued recommendations to the company to:
The Safety Board also urged the Commercial Fishing Industry Vessel Safety Advisory Committee to inform all U.S. vessel owners of the Alaska Spirit fire and urge them to implement the same safety improvements issued to the Fishing Company of Alaska, Inc.
Media contact: NTSB Office of Public Affairs
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.