On April 28, 2021, about 0154 local time, the containership President Eisenhower was transiting westbound through the Santa Barbara Channel, about 17 miles southwest of Santa Barbara, California, when the vessel experienced an engine room fire. The crew fought the fire using fire hoses and a fixed water mist system, before using the engine room’s fixed carbon dioxide fire extinguishing system, which extinguished the fire. As a result of the fire, the vessel lost propulsion and drifted for several hours before being towed to the Port of Los Angeles. No pollution or injuries among the 22 crewmembers were reported. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $8.22 million.
What We Found
We determined that the probable cause of the engine room fire aboard the containership President Eisenhower was a crewmember insufficiently swaging a compression fitting ferrule during the installation of fuel oil return tubing for a main engine’s cylinder, allowing an end of the tubing to disconnect and spray fuel oil onto a nearby unshielded and uninsulated cylinder exhaust component.
Rapid Oil Leak Detection
Rapid oil leak-detection systems are a valuable tool that can be used to prevent fire in machinery spaces. Video analytic technology is designed to use standard CCTV video to detect fuel mist and spray in real time and alert the crew before any ignition and fire. This technology is supported by class societies as an acceptable method for identifying leaks and can be integrated with existing CCTV systems. Had this technology been in use aboard the President Eisenhower, the spraying fuel oil may have been detected well before the fire developed.
Containing Engine Room Fires
The crew of the President Eisenhower effectively contained the spread of a main engine room fire by removing fuel and oxygen sources, cooling boundaries, and communicating effectively. These efforts show the importance of realistic scenario-based training, including engine room emergencies, which involve shutting down machinery, fuel oil, lube oil, and ventilation systems, as well as boundary monitoring, to quickly contain and suppress engine room fires, which can spread to other spaces and/or cause a loss of propulsion and electrical power.