Marine safety investigations & reports

Suspected engine room fire and passenger evacuation involving domestic commercial vessel Fitzroy Flyer, 13km ENE of Cairns, Queensland on 29 March 2019

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed
Phase: Final report: Dissemination Read more information on this investigation phase

Final Report

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What happened

On 29 March 2019, the catamaran ferry Fitzroy Flyer was on a scheduled trip between Cairns and Fitzroy Island, Queensland, with four crewmembers and 37 passengers on board. At about 1410, the port main engine overheated, and shortly after, a fire alarm activated in the port engine room. A crewmember and passenger investigated and reported smoke and fire. Initial attempts were made to extinguish the fire using portable extinguishers, but the success of these actions could not be confirmed. At about 1450, the master activated the port engine room fire suppression system.

All passengers were mustered and evacuated to two nearby vessels. At 1615 the master started the starboard engine and Fitzroy Flyer returned to Cairns at slow speed. By 1710, the ferry had been safely berthed without further incident.

What the ATSB found

No evidence of a fire or any fire damage was found in the engine room during inspections carried out after the incident. The signs seen by personnel were likely from smoke due to a loose and slipping fan drive belt and steam from the overheated cooling system.

The ATSB found that the on-board response did not follow company procedures as had been practised by crewmembers during emergency drills. More specifically:

  • the crew did not promptly deploy the vessel’s fire suppression system or apply boundary cooling to the area
  • multiple entries were made into the contaminated port main engine room without suitable control measures in place
  • passengers were transferred to other vessels while in open waters and without lifejackets (the engine room situation appeared to be under control at the time and the transfer unnecessarily exposed the passengers to increased risk)
  • an urgency message, informing and requesting assistance, was not sent.

What has been done as a result

Fitzroy Island Investments (Fitzroy Flyer’s owner-operator) reported that it has conducted a comprehensive evaluation and updating of the safety management system with emphasis on emergency procedures and drills. Schedules of regular shipboard staff training in procedures use and implementation, along with more frequent and targeted fire training and drills, have been implemented. In addition, a closed-circuit television camera surveillance system, with extended recording capability, has been fitted throughout the vessel.

Safety message

This occurrence highlights the importance of vessel operators having robust procedures and training for responding to fires and other emergencies on board, and for crewmembers to follow procedures and training in such situations. In particular, if a fire is suspected in an engine room, and further assessment is not possible, then crews should deploy the available suppression systems and transmit an urgency message.

Download final report
[Download  PDF: 375KB]

The investigation

General details
Date: 29 March 2019   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 1410 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): 7 NM east-north-east of Cairns   Investigation phase: Final report: Dissemination  
State: Queensland    
Release date: 24 June 2020   Occurrence category: Incident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Vessel details

Vessel details
Operator Fitzroy Island Investments  
Vessel Fitzroy Flyer  
Flag Australia  
IMO 3504QC  
Sector Passenger  
Type of operation Domestic commercial vessel, Class 1, Operational areas C and D  
Damage to vessel Nil  
Departure point Fitzroy Island, Queensland  
Destination Cairns, Queensland  
Last update 24 June 2020