Gibraltar Explosion – A Reality Check on Hotwork Near Confined Spaces

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Jun 062011

Investigations continue into the explosion and fire at a sullage plant on Gibraltar’s North Mole. The incident resulted in the injury of two welders who had been working on the tank, one of them life-threatening, and minor injuries to 12 passengers aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. It is a reminder of the hazards that may exist in confined spaces that must be accounted for when hotwork is conducted.

Two recent incidents present similarities to the Gibraltar incident. In one, an oiler tried to cut the top off a drum that contained a mixture of carbon residues and traces of mineral oil. The oiler died in the resultant explosion. The sullage tank in Gibraltar also contained water and a hydrocarbon – used fuel oil. As in the drum incident, it may be that the water-oil mixture separated and allowed explosive vapours to build up within.

In a second incident,flammable gas from an unlit welding torch appears to have leaked and pooled in the bottom of a cargo tank while workers were taking a break from stitching plate at the upper part of the cargo tank.

While the Gibraltar explosion and fire took place onshore it remains a lessons for those working onboard ship.