I read with great personal interest, your great article on the fire aboard MV Conception. It was very informative for all mariners. My sister, her husband, and my niece all perished aboard. I write to urge a follow-up on the need for appropriate means of egress from passenger occupied areas, particularly berthing compartments as the lack of sufficient means of egress was seemingly the cause of their death.
Another crucial factor was the apparent failure to maintain a required standing watch. This was a lesson learned after Titanic. Sadly, that lesson was seemingly lost.
Also, I noticed a possible discrepancy: You noted in the chart that lithium fires were a Class K fire, yet, later, you noted that water could suppress lithium-ion batteries. Was that because they are lithium-ion batteries? I wanted to be sure I understood it correctly.
Thank you for your great article.
Thank you for taking the time to write. I am sorry that this tragedy has hit so close to home. My condolences to you, your family and the families of 33 passengers and crew that perished in this tragedy.
The preliminary NTSB and USCG reports both point to four problem areas that likely led to this catastrophe at sea. First, the vessel′s Certificate of Inspection states “A member of the vessel′s crew shall be designated by the master as a roving patrol at all times, whether or not the vessel is underway and the passenger bunks are occupied.” According to reports, the five surviving crewmembers were asleep in the crew quarters aft of the bridge. One crew stated that he had made rounds at 0230, and the first distress call to USCG Sector Los Angeles was received at 0314. I don′t think that there is much wiggle room with the statement “at all times,” so the question is how long had the fire been smoldering before the 0314 distress call.
The reports indicate that there were two passive fire safety smoke alarms in the bunk room overheads. What is not clear is if these alarms were interconnected with the other alarms. The coroner′s report indicated that all passengers succumbed to smoke inhalation, which may indicate that the bunk room alarms did not sound in enough time. Smoke alarms in new homes are required to be interconnected so that if smoke or fire is detected in one location, all the alarms will sound. This is currently not a requirement for shipboard alarms, but in my opinion it should be.
There has been much interest in the escape hatch from the sleeping accommodation space, leading directly into the same space as the primary access, the saloon. As reports indicate, the likely source of the fire was in the aft portion of the saloon, so there would have been no way to escape, except through the fire. I have no doubt that this design flaw will be addressed.
Lastly, what is probably the root cause of the fire is the charging station. As I mentioned in my article, the USCG issued a safety alert in 2013, warning boaters not to use nonmarine approved power strips and surge suppressors, as there have been several shipboard fires where the cause was determined to be from power strips. We will not know for some time, if ever, the cause of the fire.
Methods of suppressing an Li-Ion battery fire are not consistent between agencies. As noted, the FAA recommends immersing an overheating Li-Ion battery in water, which would indicate a Class A fire, while other agencies consider an Li-Ion battery fire to be Class B. Despite their name, modern consumer electronic Li-Ion batteries do not contain any actual lithium metal, but instead contain liquid electrolytes that provide the conductive pathway, so the batteries receive a B fire classification. A standard ABC or BC marine approved dry chemical fire extinguisher should be used. Class B is the classification given to flammable liquids.
We can honor those lost in California′s worst maritime disaster in modern history by finding the causes and improving maritime fire safety.
San Francisco / Sausalito / Silicon Valley
Hey there Rick,
Nice to hear from you. We are finally warm and cozy, at least temporarily with the knock-off Chinese heater. It′s doing a fine job, and I can say with all honesty that it is Eartha approved! You can′t beat the price either.