Fire suppression equipped installed voluntarily by Majestic America Line aboard the replica paddlewheeler Queen of the North following an engine room fire on 8 April 2008, says the US National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB. Concerns regarding the lack of ‘out-of-water flotation’, which are not legally required in vessels of this type, have resulted in a recommendation to the US Coast Guard to require out-of-water survival craft for all passengers and crew be provided on board small passenger vessels on all routes.
The vintage-style, paddlewheel vessel was travelling east on the Columbia River near Rufus, Oregon, with 124 overnight passengers and 53 crewmembers on board, as part of a 7-day cruise when a fire broke out in the engine room, probably due to the failure of a pressurized component on the port main propulsion hydraulic system, resulting in hydraulic oil spraying onto the port engine’s exhaust piping and igniting.
The fire caused about $3.9 million in damage. One crewmember was treated for mild hypothermia.
Says NTSB: “Majestic America Line acted proactively by installing an automatic fire detection system and a fixed fire suppression system on board the Queen of the West, and this action, which was not required by Coast Guard regulations, limited the fire damage to the vessel and enhanced the survivability of passengers and crew… Early use of the fixed fire suppression system avoided a forced evacuation and likely prevented significant injuries and loss of life… The efforts by the Queen of the West crew were timely and appropriate.”
It expresses concern that: “Had an emergency evacuation been required, the absence of out-of-water flotation—not currently required by Coast Guard regulations for a vessel of this classification operating in the waters in which the accident occurred—would have subjected both passengers and crew to high risk of injury and death from exposure to cold water temperatures… by the time external response vessels arrived, people could have been in the water for about two hours, and the current could have scattered them a mile or more down the river.
“Equipping small passenger vessels with out-of-water survival craft capable of supporting 100 percent of vessel occupants is crucial in reducing casualties in the event of an emergency evacuation into the water.”
A synopsis of the Board’s report, including the probable cause and recommendations, is available on the NTSB’s website at: http://www.ntsb.gov/Publictn/2009/MAR0904.htm
The full report will be available on the website in several weeks.