Fire and sinking of passenger transfer catamaran ECC Topaz during engine trials

Location: 11nm off Lowestoft, England.

Accident Investigation Report 4/2015

Investigation report into marine accident including what happened, actions taken and recommendations made:

MAIB investigation report 4-2015: ECC Topaz

Photograph of ECC Topaz
ECC Topaz on fire


This reports the MAIB’s investigation into the fire and subsequent foundering of the passenger transfer catamaran ECC Topaz while conducting engine trials off the east coast of England 14 January 2014. It is considered most likely that the fire was caused by an uninsulated section of exhaust pipe from a diesel fired air heater making contact with the plywood under-deck or a failed exhaust pipe causing direct impingement of exhaust gas on to inflammable material stored in the heater compartment. A safety bulletin highlighting the fire risk posed by uninsulated exhaust pipes and a safety flyer specifically aimed at the leisure boating sector have been published by the MAIB.

Safety Lessons

  • an oil fired heater was not categorised as an item of machinery in the regulations to which ECC Topaz was constructed and therefore the compartment in which the heater was located was not required to be fitted with either fire detection or fire suppression equipment
  • the unauthorised modification of the air heater exhaust pipe resulted in the introduction of an uninsulated section of the exhaust pipe that would have transferred heat to the plywood under deck, eventually causing it to burn
  • the maximum continuous temperature rating of the exhaust pipes recommended by the heater manufacturer was 350 ºC, whereas the actual exhaust temperature measured at the heater outlet was around 440 ºC
  • flammable material was stored in the heater compartment
  • the annual service of the air heater as per the heater manufacturer’s Recommended Service Schedule was not carried out, thereby missing the opportunity to identify the deteriorating state of the air heater and its exhaust system

A safety bulletin giving advice to owners and operators of similar vessels was released shortly after the accident.

A safety accident flyer highlighting the fire risks associated with uninsulated exhausts was produced for this report.

Published 11 February 2015