When I tell this story to my friends, I always receive the same reaction. Imagine having your own swimming pool burning in flames! You wouldn’t believe it yet you’ll laugh it off too knowing that this happenstance sounds too stupid for real.
This is not a joke, by the way. Even if we’re a Product/ Chemical Tanker, its still be unlikely than we’ll store some cargoes in the swimming pool. You can’t find that in any maritime playbook.
Seconds From Disaster
We were berthed port side alongside in Amsterdam, Netherlands discharging gasoline. Gasoline is an extremely flammable cargo and having an open flame in any part of the ship or terminal could blow us up to kingdom come.
At about 14:00H, I heard one of the engine crew coming up from the Engine Room. He was on a big hurry banging the alleyways while shouting, “There is a fire aft!”.
But what I actually heard was, “#btq$k^%w,=lol_ %egb^dd$!^.e sm !<!@!’:&$p-/q!”.
Right, I didn’t understand what he said. He even sounded funny no matter how I recall it. Perhaps, his adrenaline got activated and made him act that way.
He was very quick too that I didn’t catch up on him. I and the Second Mate just looked at each other and realized that there was something wrong.
On our port side was another vessel and their crew were trying to get our attention by waving and yelling and pointing aft. As soon as it became apparent that there was a fire, we acted immediately and I proceed directly to the fire scene.
The engine crew who yelled, “#btq$k^%w,=lol_%egb^dd$!^.esm !<!@!’:&$p-/q!”, was already at the swimming pool trying to extinguish the fire. There was smoke all over and the powder extinguisher made the visibility even less.
Now you might think that our pool was filled with oil but its not. A long time at the anchorage made us convert our dear summer pool into an instant huge garbage can! That clears up the mystery, isn’t it?
Going back to the fire scene, I immediately unrolled the nearest hose and connected it to the fire hydrant. Bosun, who was the third person to show up, was just in time to hold the nozzle while I firmly open the valve. The rest is history.
Fire was out and just like what mostly happens in the movies, the rest of the team arrived.
What Went Wrong?
Initial investigation suggested that a spontaneous combustion occured. The dedicated garbage room was already full because of our more-than-a-month anchorage.
So, we put the rest of the garbage in our swimming pool. Storing them there for such a long time with exposed weather was the perfect recipe for spontaneous combustion.
It was also quite surprising that the an engine crew first noticed the fire. How did he knew about it? Then, it was seconded by the other ship beside our jetty. So where were the deck watchmen? And the vetting inspection! How did it end?
Wrapping the Incident
The engine crew noticed smoke coming out from the air vents while working in the workshop. With the difference of smell between burning metal and other combustible products, experience told him that a fire was starting out somewhere aft.
The engine room intake fans sucked most of the smoke hence it was not visible to the watchmen who were on the manifold area.
Though they saw white smoke aft, they thought it came from the funnel since it was vertically rising from there. The air was very light prompting them to conclude that its normal funnel smoke.
Meanwhile, the neighboring vessel had a clear view of our stern thereby warning us of an imminent flame.
On the other hand, our vetting inspection was scheduled during that day but for some reason, the inspector didn’t come. We do had our superintendent with us to assist with the vetting process.
We’re still lucky that the inspector didn’t show up. If the fire happened when he was around, we could have been banned for six months for being unsafe!
Sailing for 10 years opened me up to ultra-unlikely scenarios unfolding right before my eyes. I think long time sailors can relate to that.
Stay safe everyone and
May the winds be on your favor.
Image Credits: intlreg.org