Two fires: Good news — all rescued uninjured

In the Northeast, from 2010-2014, there were 109 vessel casualties.  Of those, 16 (15%) were categorized as fires or explosions and none was fatal.

It is worth drawing attention from time to time to events that may result in a vessel casualty on the one hand, but end with the good news that all crew are rescued and uninjured, on the other hand.

In August, two fishing vessels reported significant fires — one 65 miles off Chatham, MA, and the second about 49 miles off Port Isabel, TX.

The notice of these incidents was provided by Samuel Hill in his column, Coast Guard Rescue Roundup: August 2018, which appeared in the September issue of National Fisherman.

Both vessels were large boats.

The Rose Marie was a 77’ stern trawler with a crew of four, fishing in the Northeast Atlantic.  The Master D was a 68’ shrimper fishing with a crew of three in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Being large offshore vessels, they were both carrying a sizeable amount of diesel fuel and oil — a situation that could have become very dangerous very quickly.

But in both of these cases, the crews deployed their liferafts and were safely rescued from them without loss of life.

In the case of Rose Marie off Chatham, a Good Samaritan vessel radioed the Coast Guard and the crew was subsequently picked by the fishing vessel Seven Seas and transferred to Gabby G, also a fishing vessel.

 In the case of the Master D, an EPIRB signal received by the Coast Guard led to the lifeboat rescue.

Even as a casualty is often the culmination of a series of mishaps that line up (see the so-called “Swiss cheese model” of accident causation), rescue and recovery from such a casualty depends largely on the alignment of positive helpful actions, many of which involve decisions — good decisions — made by numerous people.

The purpose of this article is to draw attention to the fact that the crews of both vessels were well-prepared. 

Both vessels apparently had properly mounted and maintained liferafts with an appropriate capacity for the number of crew on board, as well as a crew that knew how to deploy the rafts and when to abandon ship, rather than try to fight the fire.

The situation was additionally well-managed because:

  Another fishing boat happened to be close enough to the Rose Marie to radio the Coast Guard in the absence of workable communications onboard the stricken vessel; and 2)

  The EPIRB on the Master D was charged and properly registered to the vessel.  

Result: The safe rescue of seven people by Samaritans and the Coast Guard.

Fires: How common?

In the Northeast, from 2010-2014, there were 109 vessel casualties.  Of those, 16 (15%) were categorized as fires or explosions and none was fatal.  

In The Gulf of Mexico during the same time period there were 71 vessel casualties.  Of those, again 16 (22%) were fires or explosions and one was fatal.

According to these figures — provided in the DHHS/NIOSH Commercial Fishing Fatality Summaries by Region — if we could prevent vessel fires and explosions, we could potentially reduce vessel casualties by between 15% and 22%. 

Clearly, many fishing vessel crews know how to respond to fires and explosions — we can see this by how few of these incidents result in fatalities.

However, the next step is to reduce the hazard of fire itself.

Let’s look at electronics.  

Today’s vessels — especially those fishing offshore — are outfitted with numerous electronic devices:  depth sounders, GPS plotters, AIS transponders, radios, computers, battery packs, speakers, and more. 

Open up any marine supply catalog to the electronics pages and you’ll quickly see the variety of electronic equipment available to today’s commercial fisherman. 

This equipment can overheat, be short circuited in contact with water, or heat to melting if left to charge unattended.

Devices that are not UL listed present a considerable risk.  Even simple stuff such as phone chargers can present a fire hazard if left unattended for long periods.

Perhaps we will know in the future how or if the problem with the communications equipment aboard the Rose Marie may have contributed to that fire, but the idea does present itself that in today’s electronic environment, we do need to add electronics to our check-list of potential fire hazards.

Resources and further reading:



Ann Backus, MS, is the director of outreach for the Harvard School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental Health in Boston, MA.  She may be reached by phone at (617) 432-3327 or by e-mail at <abackus@hsph.harvard.edu>.



  Mount and maintain all required safety equipment properly.

  Engage the crew in safety and fire drills.

  Develop a fire prevention checklist for your vessel and include the safety recommendations provided by the manufacturers of your electronic equipment.