Trawler fire in the Moray Firth caused by discarded cigarette

A BLAZE that engulfed a Scottish trawler in the Moray Firth and forced the crew to abandon ship was likely sparked by a discarded cigarette.

The trawler sank around 20 miles from the port in October last year. Picture: Ian Rutherford
The trawler sank around 20 miles from the port in October last year. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The Fraserburgh-registered Karinya sank around 20 miles from the port in October last year after a ferocious fire ripped through the living quarters.

The crew had been fishing for prawns when skipper Michael Ritchie noticed thick black smoke pouring from the vessel’s cabin.

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Unable to reach the lifejackets used for abandoning ship, the five trawlermen grabbed personal flotation devices used for fishing in rough weather, and made their escape in a life raft.

They were rescued by another fishing boat a short time later as a lifeboat and a rescue helicopter were scrambled to the scene.

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The fire quickly took hold of the boat, with the ship’s 10,000 litres of diesel burning “violently” and several gas bottles threatening to cause an explosion.

The boat sank around eight hours later. None of the crew were hurt in the incident.

Now the Marine Accident Investigations Branch (MAIB) has published an accident report which said an unextinguished cigarette was “probably” the most likely cause of the fire.

Investigators said: “Karinya’s skipper and crew all smoked cigarettes.

“Smoking was permitted anywhere on board with the exception of the cabin and the toilet. However, if the crew were smoking when they needed to enter the cabin for some reason they would not extinguish their cigarette before doing so.

“After being woken by the skipper, the crew proceeded from the cabin to the mess area where one or more of them are likely to have smoked a cigarette prior to going onto the aft deck in readiness for hauling the nets.

“Cigarette ends were normally discarded into ashtrays. However, it is possible that a poorly discarded cigarette end that was not fully extinguished was left in the cabin, or fell or was blown down the internal stairway and through the open cabin doorway.”

The fire was discovered on the ship just after 1pm on October 4.

Due to speed that the smoke spread, the skipper and crew were forced to abandon ship rather than try and fight the blaze.

Marine investigators said that they could not rule out other causes for the fire such as “spontaneous combustion” of the engineer’s stored clothing, which may have come into contact with oil.

They also could not say for certain that a fault with a mobile phone or charger, which was in the cabin, was to blame.

But they added: “However, while no conclusive evidence is available, it is considered that the fire probably resulted from a discarded or poorly extinguished cigarette either left in, or allowed to drop into the cabin, where it ignited the ready supply of flammable materials stored there.”

Marine investigators concluded that had the vessel had a “closed door policy” or a louder fire alarm then the fire could have been contained or extinguished at an earlier stage.

The MAIB has since issued new fire safety guidance to trawlermen in the wake of the incident.

Investigators say the Karinya’s crew were “fortunate” that the other trawler was in the area to rescue them.

They also praised the skipper’s “positive safety regime” and the fact that regular emergency drills had been carried out.

Victor Sutherland, coxswain of Fraserburgh lifeboat, was on duty the day that the Karinya sank.

He said: “It’s your worst nightmare, no matter what size of vessel you’re on, fire.

“You’ve got an endless supply of water to tackle the fire with but a very real chance of flooding your boat and getting into a sinking scenario.”