It’s often not the complicated procedures that lead to an accident, it’s the apparently simple, as in the case of an explosion aboard the Qian Chi in Brisbane, Australia which seriously injured three crew members and cause significant damage to a thermal oil heater and its surrounding. Part of the problem, though not specifically mentioned in the ATSB report, is that the brain filters out the familiar so that those small things that are different are not noticed, it’s a phenomenon that is often passed off as ‘complacency’.
The ATSB says it found that “.. during maintenance, the thermal oil heater burner nozzle had been assembled incorrectly. This was because the crew lacked experience with the equipment and the manufacturer supplied instructions were not clear and detailed. As a result, the nozzle leaked fuel into the furnace throughout the pre-ignition start sequence. The furnace exploded when the burner igniter started”.
The ATSB also found that the ship’s crew were not aware of the importance of providing immediate and accepted first aid treatment for burn injuries. It was also found that deficiencies in the Brisbane port vessel traffic service procedures and preparedness contributed to delays in providing emergency assistance.
The ship’s operators have renewed the burner equipment installed in the ship for both oil-fired thermal oil heaters and altered the control system to better suit the fuel being used and the load demands placed on the heaters.
The heater’s supplier, Garioni Naval, advised they were updating documentation supplied with their machinery. They had also been in contact with the burner equipment manufacturer and others regarding this incident and equipment design.
Maritime Safety Queensland has undertaken a review of its procedures and practices to take into account the risks associated with ships within port limits but not at a berth and the emergency response required in such situations.
Ship’s crew should remain vigilant to safety even when conducting repeated or seemingly simple tasks. Personnel need to consult equipment documentation and pay increased care and attention when undertaking unfamiliar tasks. To support that process, equipment documentation needs to be comprehensive and accurate.
Ship’s crew should also understand the importance of providing immediate and appropriate first aid to injured persons, especially burn victims. Burn injuries should always be immediately cooled, under clean, cold running water, for at least 10 minutes.