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mpv everest fire investigation

MPV Everest. Note the location of the port engine room exhaust casing above deck. Source: Australian Antarctic Division/Maritime Construction Services, annotated by the ATSB

Fire on ‘MPV Everest’ Highlights Risks of Operating in Remote, Harsh Environments

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 4506
November 24, 2023

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has released its report into a 2021 fire on board a multi-purpose vessel chartered by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) while transiting the Southern Ocean.

The fire occurred on April 5, 2021 in the port engine room of the 145-meter MPV Everest, with 37 crew members and 72 AAD staff on board, while it was on passage from Mawson station in East Antarctica to Hobart, Tasmania.

Fortunately, the fire was contained and extinguished after approximately 2.5 hours using the ship’s fixed fire-extinguishing system and there were no reported injuries or pollution resulting from the incident. However, the majority of the port engine room’s power generation and machinery was substantially damaged, leaving the ship with just two of its six diesel generators operational.

The ATSB report highlights the risks and challenges associated with operating in remote and harsh environments.

Overview of MPV Everest’s area of operation and position at the time of the fire. Source: Australian Antarctic Division, modified and annotated by the ATSB
Overview of MPV Everest’s area of operation and position at the time of the fire. Source: Australian Antarctic Division, modified and annotated by the ATSB

Despite reaching Fremantle safely eight days after the fire, the MPV Everest had to make multiple stops at sea for ongoing repairs. The nearest assistance during a substantial portion of the voyage was several days away, highlighting the potential challenges of operating in remote areas.

Following an investigation into the accident, the ATSB’s final report revealed several contributing factors, including technical faults, inappropriate watchkeeping practices, characteristics of the ship’s integrated automation system, crew fatigue, and design flaws in the vessel itself. The investigation determined that fuel oil overflowing into the engine room caused the fire, ignited either by contact with a hot surface or an electrostatic discharge.

Engine room fire on board MPV Everest, Southern Ocean, 5 April 2021. Photo: ATSB
Engine room fire on board MPV Everest, Southern Ocean, 5 April 2021. Photo: ATSB

The ATSB identified eight safety issues, one of which involved the ship’s classification society, Bureau Veritas. The approval of the ship’s fuel oil settling tank’s air vent pipe’s position within the engine room’s exhaust ventilation casing was found to be in violation of international regulations. The ATSB emphasized that air pipes for fuel oil tanks must discharge to a safe location on the open deck. Bureau Veritas’ design approval processes failed to identify the risks associated with the positioning of the air pipe in the MPV Everest‘s engine room ventilation casing, leading to the overflowing fuel entering the engine room, according to the ATSB.

While not directly causing the fire, the remaining seven safety issues were found to have increased the level of risk in the incident. The ATSB highlighted that the ship’s managers, Fox Offshore, had not ensured the vessel was adequately manned, equipped, or prepared for operations in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Additionally, the ship’s safety management system was found to be insufficiently mature for its operations and had not been effectively implemented on board.

The investigation also revealed shortcomings in the AAD’s pre-charter due diligence process, which failed to properly assess the suitability and preparedness of the ship, its crew, and safety management system for operations in Antarctica. As a result of this incident, the AAD has undertaken an independent review of its procurement process and shipping standard operating procedures, leading to process improvements.

Furthermore, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment, and Water, under which the AAD operates, has initiated changes to enhance how it identifies, engages with, and manages chartered ships and their managers/operators.

ATSB Chief Commissioner Angus Mitchell emphasized the challenges involved in potential rescue scenarios in the Southern Ocean and Antarctica. Factors such as distance, weather conditions, and the availability of suitable search and rescue assets would make any potential rescue of the MPV Everest‘s crew extremely challenging and success far from guaranteed.

“The risks and challenges of operating in the harsh, remote conditions of the Southern Ocean and Antarctica are most effectively mitigated by ensuring that ships that venture into these waters are operated at the highest levels of preparedness in terms of crewing numbers, expertise, equipment availability and readiness, and emergency response,” said Mitchell.

The ATSB report can found here.

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