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At about 0540 on 24 May 2005, a fire started on board the Singapore registered general cargo ship Java Sea while it was berthed in Cairns. The fire started in the engine room adjacent to the oil-fired thermal fluid heater, at deck level, under the poop in way of the aft peak bulkhead.

Initial attempts by the ship's crew to fight the fire using a fire hose were unsuccessful and the decision was taken to use the engine room Halon 1301 fixed fire extinguishing system. The release of the Halon 1301 proved ineffective, primarily because of the inability of the crew to close the dampers on the ventilation openings at the top of the funnel casing.

The fire was finally extinguished by the Queensland Fire Service, using high expansion foam injected through a hole cut in the base of the funnel at poop deck level directly above the seat of the fire.

The engine room and accommodation were significantly damaged by the fire and the associated fire fighting activities, to such an extent that Java Sea had to be towed to Singapore for permanent repairs.

The report found that it is probable a leakage of hot pressurised thermal fluid (mineral oil), possibly in the form of a spray, ignited when it came into contact with an un-lagged section of the oil-fired thermal fluid heater exhaust piping; and once started, the fire was fuelled by the contents of the thermal fluid expansion tank, the main engine cylinder oil service tank and the stern tube lubricating oil tank.

The report identifies a number of contributing factors and makes recommendations to address them.

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