Faulty insulation cause of fire aboard 52-year-old fishing vessel

Written by Nick Blenkey
NTSB reports on engine room fire

NTSB seal

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a report on its investigation of the December 10, 2020, fire aboard the 1968-built fishing vessel Lucky Angel off the coast of Mississippi.

The Lucky Angel was trawling for shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico when a fire broke out in the vessel’s engine room. The three crewmembers attempted to fight the fire but were forced to abandon the vessel. They were rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard. The vessel sank two days later. No pollution was reported. There was one minor injury. The vessel was a total constructive loss with an estimated value of $120,000.

A smoke alarm for the engine room indicated on the alarm panel in the wheelhouse of the Lucky Angel. When the captain reached the engine room, he told investigators, he saw white smoke that “smelled pretty much like [something] electrical was shorting” and saw sparks coming from wires overhead. Investigators determined the wires were for the deck flood lights and the aft bilge pump. The crew attempted to extinguish the fire with dry chemical fire extinguishers and sea water but were unsuccessful.

The NTSB determined the probable cause of the fire was the deterioration or chafing of wiring insulation, which caused arcing that ignited nearby combustible materials.

COCAINE

The dry NTSB summary of its findings leaves out much of the detail to be found in the full Marine Accident Investigation Brief, for example:

“While the captain’s post-accident drug testing was positive for a low level of cocaine metabolite, which indicates he used the drug in the days before the accident, it is unlikely that any effects from its use contributed to the accident circumstances.

“Investigators could not determine the precise cause of the fire aboard Lucky Angel, as the vessel was lost at sea and not salvaged.”

NO MAINTENANCE RECORDS

“Since no maintenance records were kept for the boat and no pre- or post-purchase survey was made of the Lucky Angel, investigators were unable to determine the condition of the wiring bundle or if it had ever been replaced or repaired. If the wiring was original, dating back to 1968, it may have deteriorated due to decades of being subjected to the atmosphere and chemicals found in a hot engine room environment. Chafing from the material used to support the wiring, due to a vessel’s motion at sea or vibration from vessel machinery, could have also caused the wires’ insulation to fail. In either case, a failure in the floodlights and aft bilge pump wiring insulation likely caused arcing, which was the ignition source to the ensuing fire.”

To get the rest of the story, download the Marine Accident Investigation Brief.

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