Poor relationships between officers and crew, together with bloody mindedness, meant that when a fire broke out on the AHTS Petra Frontier it was an hour before a senior officer took command of firefighting efforts, in the meantime leaving an undrilled crew working with good intentions but little effectiveness. The case highlights the link between relationships and safety.
Fortunately the incident did not become a tragedy but the potential for bad relationships to influence effectiveness a crisis is well demonstrated by The Case of the Unfamiliar Mariner.
Says the Australian Transport Safety Board report: “On 28 September, during the initial and extremely important stages of the emergency response, the master and the chief mate remained on the bridge and discussed how they should best respond to the fire, without involving or effectively directing the crew. At the same time, the crew assembled on the main deck and decided to enter the space and extinguish the fire without waiting for direction from the master or chief mate. The actions of the two groups were independent of each other. This suggests that the pre-existing inter-departmental issues were having a disruptive effect on the crew’s ability to work together as a cohesive team”.
In the hurry to get the underway, with a significant number of new crew aboard, seafarers signed familiarisation checklists when, in fact, they had not undergone the familiarisation process that would have enabled them to know the firefighting equipment and where it was stored.
Familiarisation checklists are not mere paperpushing, they are there for the safety of seafarers.
A fire drill was scheduled for 28 September, the day of departure and the day of the fire.
Petra Frontier sailed with a crew which had not undergone familiarisation and without carrying out a fire drill. Says ATSB: “
Therefore, the statutory requirement that abandon ship and fire drills be completed
before the ship sailed from Singapore had not been complied with”.
On 2 September, PMA’s general manager and safety and quality manager arrived in
Singapore to oversee the handover of the ship. The managers concentrated their
efforts on the logistics of getting the ship ready to sail from Singapore. They
considered that if they carried out tasks like organising stores, bunkers, surveys and
pilots, the master and the crew would be able to concentrate on preparing the ship.
However, the managers did not ask the master to confirm that the ship was, in his
opinion, seaworthy before they allowed it to sail from Singapore.
Petra Frontier was less than a year old, yet, in ATSB’s opinion, it was already unseaworthy.On 3 September, the remainder of the crew arrived in Singapore and on 7 September, the ship departed Singapore bound for Darwin. The ship’s engineers
were aware that some machinery items were not operating, including the fuel oil
purifier, the lube oil purifier, the sewage plant and the oily water separator.
However, these issues were not brought to the attention of the master or the PMA
During the voyage to Darwin, the crew experienced a number of mechanical
difficulties with the ship’s systems. The steering system failed to operate reliably,
resulting in the crew hand steering the ship for about 36 hours, the main engines
were shutdown on a number of occasions to allow the engineers to repair cooling
water leaks and to deal with overheating problems and the main engine fuel filters
required changing over and cleaning every few hours because the fuel was ‘dirty’.
On 16 September, after Petra Frontier had berthed in Darwin, an Australian
Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) surveyor carried out a Port State Control (PSC)
inspection on board the ship. The PSC inspection report listed 19 deficiencies,
including seized engine room vents, defective fixed carbon dioxide (CO2) fire
extinguishing system, defective oil tank quick closing valves, seized paint locker
CO2 system isolation valve and blocked paint locker water spray nozzles. As a
result of the inspection, the surveyor detained the ship, noting that it was
On 28 September, the day of the fire, the crew discovered that there was no BA
board, not all of the BA air bottles were interchangeable, the electrical plug fitted to
the air bottle refilling compressor was not compatible with any of the ship’s
electrical power outlets and the port side steering compartment escape hatch would
not close and latch correctly.
None of these deficiencies are likely to have developed in a short period of time.
Therefore, it is likely that most of the defects found by the AMSA surveyor in
Darwin, and those that were discovered by the crew during their response to the
fire, existed when Petra Frontier departed Singapore.