NTSB identifies cause of $1.5 million steamboat Natchez fire

Written by Nick Blenkey
Steamboat Natchez on fire

Natchez fire resulted in $1.5 million in damages to the vessel [Photo:USCG]

Combustible materials left unprotected near hot work led to a fire on the iconic New Orleans steamboat Natchez passenger vessel, the National Transportation Safety Board says in its latest report dealing with a vessel fire. Those fires are inevitably costly, and the Natchez fire resulted in $1.5 million in damages to the vessel.

Although the Natchez is a replica of vessels of a bygone era, it was built in 1975 and at the time when the fire broke out on May 3, 2022, was moored and out of service, undergoing a major make over.

“At the time of the casualty,” says the NTSB report, “the Natchez had been undergoing an extensive overhaul of its boilers, generators, and passenger spaces for about 16 months, since January 2021. This work required the employment and coordination of several contractors to accomplish the various tasks. The Natchez owner/operator, who had crew working on the vessel during the day and a security watch in the evening, did not maintain a safety plan for the work being conducted on the vessel but instead relied on the contractors to have and follow their own safety plans. However, the company that was conducting the hot work in the generator space did not have a fire safety plan for the work on board the Natchez.”

On the day of the fire, contractors were removing the vessel’s main electrical panel to install a replacement. After work was completed for the day, the Natchez deckhand serving as the security watchstander saw smoke and flames in the engine room. The New Orleans Fire Department extinguished the fire. Most fire damage was contained within the generator space that housed the panel, with minor heat damage to the engine room and minor smoke damage to the external passenger decks located directly above the fire.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives determined the fire on the steamboat Natchez originated near the deck along the forward bulkhead, adjacent to where the hot work was performed. NTSB investigators saw photos taken prior to the fire that showed cardboard boxes, wooden shelves and other combustible were in the storage areas near where the hot work was performed.

NTSB investigators found neither the vessel owner, the New Orleans Steamboat Company, nor the hot work contractor had a written safety policy or procedures in place for employees to review and follow when preparing for and conducting hot work on the vessel. Fire safety plans are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of fire aboard the steamboat Natchez was the failure of contractor and vessel personnel to identify and then either remove or adequately protect combustible materials near hot work.

“The NTSB has investigated multiple fires following the completion of hot work within a space that were determined to be caused by a smoldering fire,” the report says. “A smoldering fire is formed when combustible material ignites, but the combustion proceeds slowly and steadily on the material’s surface with little heat and no smoke or flame. A smoldering fire is not easily detected, and depending upon its surroundings, it can last for hours after the initial ignition and can quickly grow into a flaming fire with no warning. It is critical to evaluate work areas for fire hazards and ensure that combustibles are relocated or protected with flameproofed covers/curtains or otherwise shielded with sheet metal. In addition, crewmembers involved in hot work should be trained to identify hazards such as combustibles and to take action to remove or protect them from hot work.”

  • Download the full NTSB report HERE
Categories: Inland and Coastal, News, Passenger Tags: , , , ,