Report into 2019 ship fire raises concerns over firefighting capabilities at some ports

The Tecumseh bulk carrier is currently moored in Windsor, Ont. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada/Twitter - image credit)
The Tecumseh bulk carrier is currently moored in Windsor, Ont. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada/Twitter - image credit)

The federal Transportation Safety Board (TSB) has raised concerns about firefighting capabilities at ports and harbours have following a ship fire that broke out on the Detroit River in 2019.

The board released a report on its investigation into the fire on Tuesday.

"The board is concerned that some Canadian ports and harbour authorities may lack the proper equipment, training, and resources to respond effectively to shipboard fires occurring within their jurisdiction," the board stated in a media release.

The Tecumseh, a bulk carrier, was towed to the Port of Windsor in December of 2019 following a fire in the engine room. After attempts to put the fire out by crew on the vessel proved unsuccessful, a crew was called in from Texas and the fire was eventually put out.

The TSB said the fire originated from the failure of a flexible fuel hose. It did identify some issues when it came to the operator of the vessel, such as the fact that the fire training manual on board was not specific to the vessel and that there was no safety management system to ensure that fuel hose assemblies on the main engines "were of adequate integrity and remained in working condition."

The TSB said Windsor Port Authority relies on Windsor Fire and Rescue Services for fires both on shore and on board vessels but that the service wasn't trained to deal with marine fires so they remained on shore.

It also said there is currently no requirement for them to take marine firefighting training.

TSB
TSB

Steve Laforet, chief of Windsor Fire and Rescue services, said that he's had discussions with the harbour master and if there's an opportunity for training, it can be considered.

"I agree there are a number of inherent risks when it comes to ship-board fires," he said.

Laforet added that it was the only ship fire he's had any dealing with in his 33 years of service.

"It's not something we could do well overnight," he said. "It would require some financial support, resources and then you've got to block away time to make sure you can train everybody to the appropriate level."

No lives at stake

He said that in this case there were no lives at stake and that the damage to the boat had largely taken place before it was brought to the port.

"If there were lives at stake then we would probably take on a greater risk than we normally would," he said.

The TSB also said that the Windsor Port Authority does not have a contingency planing case of emergencies onboard vessels that are in port.

Peter Berry, the port's harbour master, disagrees.

"There's always been a contingency plan of what to do if there's a fire in the port, not necessarily a shipboard fire," he said adding that they do exercises with American and Canadian coast guards dealing with shipboard emergencies and casualties all the time.

Stacey Janzer/CBC
Stacey Janzer/CBC

"There is a plan in place to deal with what do we need to do if we needed to evacuate that vessel. How do we deal with the fire and where do we put it and that all went into play."

Berry said marine firefighting is a very technical endeavour and that having a ready crew is very difficult.

"It's a federal government issue and it's something that's been brought forward with Transport Canada for consideration of shipboard firefighting of how does that get funded and how does that get created across Canada."