Report No 135

Date:  22-Jul-98 
Released:  28-Jun-99 
Location:  ANTARCTICA 


At about 0230 on 22 July 1998 a fire broke out in the engine room of the Antarctic research and supply vessel Aurora Australis.The ship was about 1300 miles south of Tasmania with 54 special purpose personnel (or expeditioners), 24 crew and an ice pilot on board.

About 25 minutes before the outbreak of the fire, the duty engineer had been woken by an alarm on the unmanned machinery space monitoring panel in his cabin. He went to the machinery control room and inspected the engine room. He cancelled the alarm and returned to his cabin at 0213. At that time, everything in the engine room appeared to be normal.

The duty engineer was roused again at 0225 by another alarm and, returning to the engine room, he discovered a fire at the forward end of the port main engine, around the turbocharger. The engine was stopped and the fire alarms sounded.

The fire at the turbochargers was attacked by engineers using portable extinguishers and apparently extinguished. A few moments later, however, at about 0236, a fireball erupted and the engineers were forced to evacuate the engine room. The expeditioners and crew were mustered on the helicopter deck and the fire teams deployed. Preparations were made for the operation of the fixed fire fighting system protecting the engine room.

The Halon 1301 fixed smothering system was released at 0252.Following the release of the halon gas, a MAYDAY message was transmitted and communications were established through Sydney Maritime Communications Centre.

From 0340 onwards, the engine room was re-entered on a number of occasions using self-contained breathing apparatus.

After consultation with the Tasmanian Fire Service by facsimile, ventilation of the engine room commenced at 1444. At about 1540 the engine room could be entered without breathing apparatus for a full inspection.

Although there was some damage to the port engine and turbochargers, the critical damage was to the electrical wiring of power and control circuits carried in cable trays affected by the fire. There was also some water damage, the result of water freezing in pipes in the Antarctic conditions.

Over the next three days, the ship’s crew carried out repairs and “jury rigged” electrical wiring to restore propulsive power to the starboard engine and electrical power to ancillary equipment.

Aurora Australis arrived back in Hobart on 31 July 1998, under its own power.

Investigation of the fire scene showed that the fuel source was from a split flexible hose between the port engine fuel filters and a length of rigid pipe on the fuel spill line.

It was also found that out of ten halon gas bottles, four had failed to discharge.


These conclusions identify the different factors contributing to the incident and should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular organisation or individual. Based on all the evidence available, the following factors are considered to have contributed to the fire:

It is also considered that: