Following its investigation of the fire incident aboard the Carnival Splendor, the U.S. Coast Guard has issued two safety alerts – one focusing on simple failures rendering CO2 systems inoperative and the other on how wrong directions can be a recipe for failure.

Failed CO2 System

According to the USCG, the crew aboard the Splendor responded effectively to the fire in the engine room and extinguished it with portable equipment. However, after five hours and before the fire was completely extinguished, the captain decided to release CO2 from the ship’s system, but it failed to operate as designed. Crew was also unable to manually activate the system.

The USCG said that it discovered that numerous piping and hose connections leaked extensively. Also, the zone valve for the aft machinery space failed. Actuating arms to five of the six other zone valves were found to be lose.

In addition, hemp type pipe sealant was used extensively on pipe threads and in some cases seems to have entered into the system. Low points had also allowed the accumulation of water that could cause corrosion and possibly have a negative effect on other components.

The firefighters involved reported that the CO2 system’s pilot and co-pilot bottles did not appear to operate correctly and had to be manually activated and at least one pilot bottle activation hose was said to have leaked.

The system had recently been serviced and inspected by an authorized service provider, the USCG stated in its alert.

Recipe for Failure

The USCG also said that the shipyard commissioning test procedures appeared to differ from those documented in the vessel’s firefighting instruction manual. Furthermore, the manual onboard refers to a control panel that is different from the one on the ship.

Other errors include stating that the CO2 release station is on starboard side when in fact it is on the port side. It also tells crew to “pull” when it should read “turn” valves.  There are photographs of CO2 stations that are different than the actual stations, and shipyard’s piping schematics and drawings do not appear to match the actual installation. Furthermore, the manual contained what the USCG called confusing language.

Strong Recommendations

Based on these and other issues, the USCG said it strongly recommends that ship builders, yards, classification societies, insurers, owners and operators, system service personnel and others carefully and critically review, routinely inspect and maintain, verify and test their fixed fire fighting installations to ensure that they will operate correctly during an emergency, and that all documentation, including labeling and instructions, are consistent and relevant to the systems installed aboard a vessel.