National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC - The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of a fire on board a passenger ferry in Alaska "was the absence of an effective maintenance and inspection program for the electrical switchboards, resulting in a switchboard fire by arcing, most likely due to a faulty connection or a conductive object."
The fire broke out in the main switchboard of the engine control room of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) ferry Columbia on June 6, 2000. The Columbia, with 498 people on board, was underway in the Chatham Strait, about 30 nautical miles southwest of Juneau, on a regularly scheduled voyage to Sitka, Alaska. As a result of the fire, the ferry lost main propulsion and electrical power and began to drift. The fire was extinguished and the passengers were transferred to another vessel with no resulting casualties. The Columbia was then towed to port. The cost of repairs to the vessel was approximately $2 million.
At a public meeting, held in Washington, DC, on September 18, the Safety Board concluded that the fire might have been avoided if the main switchboard had been subjected to thorough and timely inspections as part of an effective preventive maintenance program, which likely would have identified and corrected faulty connections and removed any foreign conductive objects.
The Safety Board also found that the ability of the Columbia's crew to respond to the fire was "less than adequate" because the AMHS had not developed a comprehensive prefire plan that included procedures for fighting engineroom fires and required that crew members train and drill for such emergencies.
As a result of its investigation, the NTSB made the following recommendations to the AMHS:
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
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.