Open door policy — Part II

So, if you accept the National Transportation Safety Board’s determination that rapid down-flooding of the engine room along with the subsequent loss of adequate reserve buoyancy sank the towboat Savage Ingenuity, we must return to the most relevant question. Why were the engine room doors open?

Setting aside the unlikely scenario of sabotage, they would be open for only one of three plausible reasons — either the crew was lazy, inattentive and/or incompetent (leaving them open out of indifference and neglect), they couldn’t be closed because of deterioration or damage, or it was purposeful because they had no other practical choice.

It should be pointed out that the NTSB report touches on this critical issue in the analysis section.

“On towboats, doors to the engine room are often left open to allow for cooling and circulation. The Savage Ingenuity was not fitted with adequate ventilation and cooling systems to allow for the engine room doors to be continuously closed when the engines were running. Consequently, the heat generated in the engine room would also affect the vessel’s adjacent accommodation spaces, where existing ventilation and air conditioning systems could not account for the heat. The engine room doors, therefore, were left open.”

And there you have it. The NTSB had the real root cause firmly in its hand but somehow let it slip away. The towboat didn’t sink because of a lack of a company policy or other regulation, which in any case may or may not be followed. It obviously sank because of a long-standing and well known design flaw (inadequate ventilation) that everyone knows about. Somehow boats continue to be designed and built paying no attention to this problem.

Mariners certainly play their own role in casualties when they fail to practice good seamanship in circumstances where they otherwise could without inhibition. But this crew, and all of the others on boats with this problem, were set up to fail before they ever started.

It’s a real shame the NTSB’s recommendations failed to catch something this obvious.

About the author

Joel Milton

Joel Milton has worked aboard fishing boats, pilot boats, Coast Guard cutters and small boats, dredge tenders, offshore crewboats and supply boats, towing vessels, a small container ship, and a wide variety of small craft including an inflatable yellow “ducky” The Piker.

2 Comments

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    Gerry McGovern on

    Joel, the lack of proper ventilation is made worse by open fidley decks. Why are tugboats and towboats still designed this way? There is no need today for an open fidley (How do you put out engine room fires with an open fidley?) Passenger vessels have had closed ventilation systems for engine rooms for many years.

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