On May 23, 2018, at 0010 local time, a fire was detected in a cargo hold on board the cargo ship Chipolbrok Moon while moored at the Industrial Terminal West in Greens Bayou in the Port of Houston, Texas. Some of the vessel’s 24 crewmembers had completed hotwork in that space about 25 minutes before the alarm sounded. The crew manually activated the fixed CO2 fire-extinguishing system in the affected space, and the fire was extinguished. Several wind-turbine components being carried as cargo were damaged in the fire. No pollution or injuries were reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $12 million.
We determined that the probable cause of the fire aboard cargo vessel Chipolbrok Moon was the crew’s lack of adherence to the company’s safety management system and the marine chemist’s instructions pertaining to hotwork precautions, which allowed sparks and slag to fall through unprotected gaps between the removable decking pontoons and ignite the dust-protective covering of the transmission hubs.
Before conducting hotwork, it is critical to evaluate work areas for fire hazards to ensure that adequate protection is in place. In addition, notifying shoreside authorities both before conducting hotwork and in the event of a fire allows port authorities to properly prepare and respond more rapidly.