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What You Need To Know About Fire At Sea


The April 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform brought attention to the dangers of fires at sea.

Whether the fire occurs on an oil platform, on a fishing vessel, or on a cruise ship, a fire at sea can have disastrous consequences.  Because fuels, hot equipment and other hazardous materials are present aboard these vessels, fires are a daily risk and can spread quickly. When a vessel is far from shore, it may take time for help to arrive. It is important that all vessels be equipped with fire safety equipment such as fire extinguishers and fire blankets. All crew members should have training in fire safety, the use of fire safety equipment, and proper evacuation procedures in case of a vessel fire. Every crew member should know about possible fire hazards onboard.

There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of fire at sea.

  • Keep the vessel clean and tidy
  • Always keep working areas neat.
  • Do not allow flammable waste to accumulate
  • Always keep fire doors closed to restrict the spread of flames and smoke
  • Avoid keeping any inflammable material on board
  • Keep bilges, drip trays, and galley stove clean of oil/grease
  • Keep all heat source areas clear
  • Store paint/varnish ashore (if possible)
  • Check all appliances off when not in use
  • Check that all feed pipes and joints are sound
  • Take great care when using oxyacetylene or other equipment which might ignite flammable materials
  • Keep all naked flames under control
  • Ensure all electrical equipment approved for marine use
  • Regularly check engine room, keep components clean
  • Always turn everything off before refueling
  • Take great care when pumping oil to ready use tanks – avoid spillage or overflow which could lead to fire
  • Maintain fire safety equipment – fire extinguishers/blankets, warning devices
  • Put out all cigarettes completely
  • Comply with no smoking area signs at all times

On most vessels, it is the skipper’s responsibility to learn about how to prevent fires on board and ensure that all fire safety equipment is in good working order. Failure to do so may be negligence under maritime law and injured workers may have the right to file a Jones Act claim.

Is the Lafitte Tug Boat Fire an Example of Why Wellheads and Pipelines Must be Clearly Marked?

The horrible story of a Lafitte tug boat captain being badly burned after a tug boat struck a gas wellhead is another example of why gas wellheads and pipelines must be properly marked and lit by the owner of the wellheads and pipelines. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), formerly the Minerals Management Service (MMS), promulgates rules requiring the safe and proper marking of wellheads and pipelines.

While it is unclear if the wellhead in this case was marked and lit, very often poor lighting and markings are a cause of such horrible accidents. If this turns out to be the case, the owner of the wellhead will likely be at fault and maritime law will apply to this accident. In all likelihood, the injured workers will be allowed to seek punitive damages.

You can read more about the accident and get important updates at http://www.wwltv.com/news/Man-severely-burned-in-Lafitte-tug-boat-fire-197687561.html.

Fire Onboard “Deadliest Catch” Vessel Highlights Fire Dangers Offshore

Over one hundred firefighters worked together to extinguish a vessel fire aboard the commercial fishing vessel Arctic Dawn. The vessel was featured in some of the “Deadliest Catch” reality TV show episodes on the Discovery Channel.

The ship as docked near the Ballard Bridge in Seattle. The fire broke out around 2 a.m. on Sunday, September 12. When firefighters arrived at the scene, they found intense flames and smoke sprouting from the 100-ft vessel.

Only one person was aboard ship at the time. He got off safely and no maritime injuries were reported.

Firefighters were able to keep the fire from spreading to other vessels docked nearby.

Every year lives are lost and injuries occur because of fires on ships. When fires occur while the vessel is docked at port, fire fighters are able to get to the scene to help. However, this is not always possible if the ship is at sea. Crew may be forced to abandon ship and spend hours in frigid waters awaiting rescue.

The largest cause of fire on board vessels is human error. Often it is a single careless that act endangers the lives of the entire crew. For this reason all members of the crew should receive fire safety training.

Contact Us

If you or a loved one has been injured in a fire while working at sea, the Louisiana maritime law attorneys at The Young Firm can help.  Contact our maritime law office at 1-866-6113 to learn more about your rights.

When you call, request your free copy of our guide, “Employee’s Guide to Maritime Injury Law.”



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