Safety Lessons from Marine Incident Investigation (AMSA Report) No.11 – September 2022

Onboard fire results in masters’ quick and safe decision.


On the evening of 29 May 2022, a commercial fishing vessel was on a voyage from Mackay to Cairns when the master noticed an auxiliary engine alarm. Upon lifting the engine room hatch, the master saw smoke and an orange glow and the engine room subsequently caught fire. The master quickly made the decision that they would not be able to fight the fire without jeopardising their safety and abandoned ship. An SMS risk assessment on appropriate crewing on a voyage greater than 12 hours duration should be undertaken in these situations. 

What happened 

A Class 3B commercial fishing vessel was relocating from Mackay to Cairns for the fishing season. Just prior to 2000, the vessel was east of Gloucester Island when the master, being the only one onboard, became alarmed by a change in engine sound. Moments later, they noticed alarms for the auxiliary engine were activated on the panel at the helm position. The master left the helm position to check the machinery and engine room, leaving the engine in gear. The master opened the engine hatch and discovered smoke and a glowing orange colour in the engine room. They returned to the helm to disengage the main engine &, on turning back, saw flames coming from the engine hatch. The master made a rapid decision not to fight the fire as they risked entrapment if they could not get past the fire to the vessels aft where a tender was secured. The master went aft and boarded the tender. The tender was momentarily caught under the back of the vessel and the master fell partially into the water. The master freed the tender and moved away from the vessel. The master made their way to Bowen. The vessel burned to the waterline and subsequently sank. No injuries were reported.  

Investigation findings 

The investigation identified the following contributory factors: 

  • The master inadvertently introduced oxygen to an accelerating fuel and heat situation and the engine room caught fire. It is believed the fire started at the auxiliary engine. 
  • The master made the quick and safe decision not to fight the fire in case they were trapped and could not abandon ship safely via the attached tender at the vessels aft.  
  • The vessel, built in approximately 1990 and not in survey, was not fitted with a fire suppression system in the engine room and the fire emergency air vents and fuel shut off system were not activated. 
  • The vessel was undertaking a voyage of greater than 12 hours duration as a single person operation. DCV crew that are awake for greater than 12 hours during a voyage have reported high levels of fatigue. 

Safety message 

Operators and masters of commercial fishing vessels need to ensure their emergency procedures for onboard fire risks include quick and safe decisions with regard the crew’s ability to fight a fire successfully and safely. For a single person operation conducting a voyage of greater than 12 hours duration, a risk assessment regarding appropriate and safe crewing numbers and fatigue management should be carried out. Risk assessments in SMS must identify procedures that mitigate all identifiable risks to safe operations that must be reduced to as low a level as possible. 

Last updated: 29 September 2022