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IN its final report on a 2020 cargo fire on Kota Bahagia, the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission recommended the ship’s operator take further steps to ensure that the safety precautions prescribed in its safety and emergency manual are implemented onboard its vessels.

TAIC noted that the operator, Pacific International Lines, had take safety actions after the fire, but the commission said further action is still required.

On 18 December 2020, the Kota Bahagia was discharging a cargo of wind turbine components at Napier Port.

Shore-based workers were on board doing hot work with gas-cutting equipment to remove steel brackets that were welded to the hold floor to keep the cargo in place.

TAIC acting chief investigator of accidents Naveen Kozhuppakalam said molten material from gas-cutting hot work very likely caused the fibreglass cargo to catch fire.

Responding to the fire, Fire and Emergency NZ took charge of the unified command team – the ship’s crew, FENZ firefighters, and the port authorities. The ship’s master followed FENZ’s orders and evacuated people from the ship.

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“The ship’s master knew that the crucial firefighting tactic was to close the cargo hold cover and release carbon dioxide into the hold. To close the cover, the crew needed to go back on board to hoist a crane wire and container spreader out of the hold,” Mr Kozhuppakalam said.

“The master tried to convey these tactics to the FENZ officer in charge, but valuable time was lost because FENZ staff didn’t initially give due regard to the master’s command status and knowledge of the ship and its systems.

“The commission found that suppression of the fire was further delayed because the parties involved lacked a shared and consistent understanding of each other’s roles and objectives.”

It took seven days to extinguish the fire. There was extensive damage to ship’s hold and the cargo. There were no fatalities or serious injuries.

The response to the fire on the Kota Bahagia revealed safety issues that were similar to those identified by the Commission in its November 2018 report on a fire on the Kokopo Chief in Port of Tauranga.

Accepting TAIC’s recommendations in that report, Fire and Emergency NZ indicated that they would complete reviews in 2019. These reviews were not complete when the Kota Bahagia fire occurred in December 2020.

“To completely implement the commission’s 2018 recommendations, Fire and Emergency NZ needs to urgently update its training regime to include the latest procedures and guidance for fighting fire onboard ships,” Mr Kozhuppakalam said.

“The commission welcomes Fire and Emergency’s safety actions so far, which include new documents that the status and authority of the master; new procedures for fighting fires on ships; and work with ports to formalise firefighting collaboration.”

Mr Kozhuppakalam said the commission identified no safety issues with Napier Port’s response to the Kota Bahagia fire.

“[However], we welcome Napier Port’s proactive safety actions. Its fire hydrants and firefighting equipment have distinctive new markings, and the port strengthened relationship with FENZ includes formalised firefighting tactics, site orientation and emergency simulation exercises,” Mr Kozhuppakalam said.

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