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At 0435 on 16 February 2010, the bulk carrier River Embley was at anchor off Gladstone, Queensland, when the ship's fire alarms sounded, alerting the crew to an engine room fire. A few minutes later, while the engineers were investigating the fire, there was an explosion in the engine room.

The crew shut down the running machinery, the engine room vents were closed and the ship's electrical load was transferred to the emergency generator. They monitored the situation and at 0823 confirmed that the fire had been extinguished. By 1105, they had determined that the engine room was safe to enter without the use of breathing apparatus.

The ATSB investigation determined that the fire started inside a screw type air compressor and that the explosion that followed occurred when a cloud of hot oil vapour, which had been expelled from the compressor, ignited.

The investigation found that the compressor did not shut down before the fire occurred because its high temperature alarm/shutdown did not operate. The investigation also found that, during the emergency response, the crew worked as a team and demonstrated how effective a trained response to an unexpected emergency can be.

The investigation identified two safety issues: routine testing of the compressor high temperature alarm/shutdown was not included in the ship's planned maintenance system; and routine testing of the alarm/shutdown was not included in the manufacturer's maintenance manual.

These safety issues have been addressed by the ship's managers and the compressor manufacturer.

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