Ships on Fire: Worst Case Scenarios

This is probably the worst-case scenario you can possibly have. You have a vessel that’s on the open sea, that is in the middle of the night. I mean, it’s 3:30 in the morning. Fire is the scourge of any ship. And you know, if not everybody, most everybody was asleep at this time… So you can imagine, of all scenarios, to be in a remote location, have a fire that occurs, have limited, if any, firefighting capabilities that could address that, and then to have, all of a sudden, a fire that spread very, very rapidly, you couldn’t ask for a worse situation.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown (on Santa Cruz boat fire)

Conception on fire off Santa Cruz Island, CA
(Photo released by the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s Office)

The images coming from the Conception disaster off California’s Channel Islands were alarming. And reminiscent of another disaster many years ago, albeit quite different in its inception. I am, of course, talking about the Investor fire.

Investor on fire, Ben’s Cove (Alaska State Archive)

What strikes me are the parallels between these two scenarios. Passengers — or crew members — trapped below decks as they slept. Folks unable to escape the fire or, in the Investor case, the gunfire. A boat fire that goes on and on… With firefighters frustrated in their efforts to put it out.

Ventura County firefighters were able to reach the boat within 15 minutes, the fire department said.

But by then, it was engulfed in flames.

Firefighters struggled to extinguish the fire because each time it was snuffed out, flames flared back up — perhaps because of the fuel on board, the Coast Guard’s Aaron Bemis said.

By 7:20 a.m., the ship began to sink in 64 feet of water. The boat had burned down to the water line, Santa Barbara County fire spokesman Mike Eliason said.

FOX 5 Digital Team and CNN WIRE, September 3, 2019

The Investor burned for the better part of a day. Efforts to extinguish it were hampered by a lack of firefighting equipment and its remote location. It burned to the gunnels. Precious evidence was destroyed in the meantime. And yet…

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the differences. In the Conception disaster, what started as a rescue operation ended as a recovery operation, as noted in the image below. For the Investor, what started as a fire-fighting operation ended with a startling discovery that led to a criminal investigation.

Coast Guard search & rescue grids (courtesy Edhat)

As far as we know at the moment, no criminal activity is suspected on board the Conception. But these are both worst-case scenarios. And though hauntingly familiar, each is its own catastrophe. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to everyone even remotely touched by these twin tragedies.

Copyright 2019. All rights reserved.


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