Published on Australian Maritime Safety Authority (

Safety Lessons from Marine Incident Investigation (AMSA Report) No.25 – February 2024

Passenger vessel fire and evacuation.


A fire occurred on a passenger vessel in a busy harbour. The master and crew took immediate action and followed emergency procedures to disembark and transfer 73 passengers safely to another ferry. The vessel’s structural and fixed firefighting systems worked effectively to contain and extinguish the fire. 

What happened 

At about 6 pm on 15 December 2023, a 16-metre timber hulled passenger vessel carrying 73 passengers was performing a charter tour on a busy harbour. A fault in an oil pressure sensor caused an oil fire in the engine compartment, activating the fire alarm. The Master determined there was an active fire, made the order to the crew to prepare to abandon the vessel, closed the fuel shut offs, closed the engine room vents, and then returned to the wheelhouse to shut down the engines and activate the fixed firefighting system. 

The Master notified Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) via radio and instructed a deckhand to perform an emergency anchor drop. The remaining deckhands instructed the passengers to put on lifejackets. The Master applied various fire extinguishers to the fire to ensure it was fully extinguished and would not reflash.  

A ferry was despatched by VTS and arrived alongside the passenger vessel within 5 minutes. All 73 passengers were transferred safely onboard. The quick response meant the fire caused minimal damage. 

Investigation findings 

The investigation identified the following factors in the overall safety outcome: 

Safety message 

Regular crew training and drills in emergency procedures such as fire and evacuation and the use of life-saving equipment is an essential part of the vessel’s safety management system. Additionally, maintaining compliant firefighting systems (both structural and fixed) minimises damage to vessels and risk to lives in the event of fire. 

This positive example highlights the importance of well-maintained structural and fixed firefighting systems in detecting, containing and extinguishing fires on domestic commercial vessels. This minimises damage to the vessel as well as risk to the lives of passengers and crew. Regular emergency drills, based on effective and periodically reviewed emergency procedures, and including the use of life-saving equipment, provide vital preparation in the event of a vessel fire.          

Safety information on this topic 

Guidelines for a safety management system: Emergency preparedness (page 30) PDF1.26 MB

Emergency procedures idea generator/flipchart PDF363.7 KB

Fire Safety, National Standards for Commercial Vessels: C4


Last updated: 14 March 2024