Stories on Maritime Leadership

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Engine Room Fire: Hot Leadership Lessons from the Sea

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In 2014, a fire destroyed the Engine Room of the bulk carrier Marigold. Luckily, other than a couple of seafarers who were hospitalised for smoke inhalation, there were no serious injuries. But the cost of the fire damage would be several hundred thousand US dollars.


A fuel pipe on a generator had failed, spraying oil onto a hot surface around the exhaust gas manifold. The fire spread rapidly, beyond the control of a fire extinguisher. Fortunately, the ship was inside the harbour and the fire was brought under control with the help of shore firefighters.

What if this had occurred at sea?

There were several leadership failures- and lessons for us all.

The pipe had failed due to an incompatible connection with a retrofitted pressure gauge. The hot surfaces were inadequately protected. Several vent-closing devices were inoperable which meant that the air supply to the fire could not be choked off. Some of the crew tried to leave the engine room using the elevator which showed their poor training for an emergency. The fixed fire-fighting system of the ship is the last resort in fighting shipboard fire. Yet it was incorrectly operated, putting the control of the fire beyond the capability of the ship’s crew.

Between the Master, Chief Engineer and Chief Officer, they had 95 years of seagoing experience. But apparently, they lacked sufficient expertise to prevent or deal with the fire. This clearly showed that expertise is not always proportional to experience. As I argue in my book Golden Stripes, expertise is the keel of leadership. Nothing else works, if professionals don’t have expert level grasp of their subject.

A fire on the Java Sea in 2005 had highlighted similar failures to ensure fire protection of machinery and to release halon effectively to combat an engine room fire. Isn’t it time we learn about leadership failures on the high seas, and ways to overcome them?

As Professor Caroline Schroeder puts it “Some people change their ways when they see the light; others when they feel the heat”.



Captain VS Parani, FNI, FICS, CMarTech-IMarEST

Author, Golden Stripes- Leadership on the High Seas

(Information courtesy: Australian Transport Safety Board reports)

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