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A Maritime Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report has blamed malfunctioning cylinder valves for the release of a potentially deadly amount of carbon dioxide on board Red Funnel’s Red Eagle car ferry last year.

It was on an early morning crossing from East Cowes to Southampton on 17th July 2017 that an unintentional release of CO2 from the ship’s fixed fire-extinguishing system occurred.

Some 57 passengers and 8 crew members were on board the ferry at the time of the incident – at around 04:35 – but thankfully the leak was contained preventing a potentially fatal outcome. A report issued by the UK Health and Safety Executive states that unintended release of carbon dioxide from fire-extinguishing systems caused 72 deaths and 145 injuries, mainly in the marine industry, between 1975 and 2000.

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According to the MAIB incident report, it was approximately 15 minutes after departing East Cowes that the CO2 release alarm sounded in the engine room. The chief engineer and mechanic, who were in the engine control room at the time, ran out of the space, exiting onto the vehicle deck immediately above. The CO2 room and its remote release station were located on opposite sides of this deck.

The chief engineer inspected the remote CO2 release station and saw that it was undisturbed. He then went to the door of the CO2 room, where he heard a loud hissing sound from within. He opened the door to the room slightly, and through a very small opening saw a dense white cloud inside.

Photo: MAIB

The chief engineer telephoned the bridge and discussed the situation with the master. They concluded that no emergency response was required other than ensuring that no one entered either the CO2 room or the engine room. The master then telephoned Griffin Fire & Training Limited (GFT), who were contracted to maintain the CO2 fire-extinguishing systems on the company’s ro-ro ferries, and asked them to attend the vessel as soon as possible. He also informed the vessel’s owners, who in turn notified the MCA.

Red Eagle berthed at 05:15 and, after disembarking the passengers and their vehicles, moved to a layby berth nearby where inspections were carried out.

The MAIB’s investigation has revealed that the unintended release of CO2 on Red Eagle was caused by one or more cylinder valves leaking into the manifold, causing the system to discharge. The cylinder valves showed evidence of refurbishment by service suppliers, which led to the entrapment of brass particles on the sealing surface of one valve, causing it to leak.

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Red Funnel have now replaced the components that contributed to this incident on Red Eagle and sister vessels Red Falcon and Red Osprey.

Recommendations have been made to:

• The Maritime and Coastguard Agency: to seek clarification from the International Maritime Organization of the maximum permitted periodicity between hydrostatic testing of individual high pressure cylinders (MSC.1/Circ.1318); and, to ensure that all safety devices fitted to carbon dioxide fixed fire-extinguishing systems are maintained and surveyed appropriately.

• Det Norske Veritas – Germanischer Lloyd and Lloyd’s Register: to raise with the International Association of Classification Societies the issue of the quality of service provided by approved service suppliers in the maintenance of carbon dioxide fixed fire-extinguishing systems.

• The owners of Red Eagle: to review the design of the carbon dioxide fire-extinguishing systems fitted to their vessels where the leakage of a single cylinder valve causes the
entire system to discharge.

The full report can be found at https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5b979251e5274a13a00c8f21/2018_-_16_-_Eddystone_and_Red_Eagle.pdf.

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