Fire in machinery space of chemical tanker Multitank Ascania resulting in abandonment and drifting of the vessel

Location: Pentland Firth, Scotland.

Accident Investigation Report 22/2000

Read our marine accident investigation report, which includes what happened, actions taken, and recommendations:

multitank ascania.pdf (2,825.19 kb)


On 19 March 1999 fire breaks out in the machinery space of chemical tanker Multitank Ascania. Attempts by the crew fail to put out the fire using portable extinguishers followed by flooding spaces with a fixed system. All crew, except the master, are subsequently airlifted off the vessel. With the casualty drifting towards land, attempts are made to tow the vessel clear. A temporary exclusion zone is set up, included evacuation of up to 600 people from homes in the area. The following morning, two salvage personnel, lowered on to the vessel, report the fire to be out. The vessel was eventually towed to safety with minor damage.

Safety Issues

  • inspection of the area suggested that a flanged joint on a pressure relief valve immediately beneath the upper centre thermal oil pump may have leaked
  • access problems to the area between the thermal oil pumps would have made the replacement of any joint, or any other components in this area difficult, and possibly resulted in non-uniform tightening of fixings, or less than ideal cleaning of joint faces
  • a dedicated water spray fire-fighting system fitted over the thermal oil unit would have had, at the minimum, the potential to contain the fire without the need to stop the main engine and generators
  • during the early stages of the incident, the master of Multitank Ascania failed to appreciate fully the potential danger his disabled vessel posed to his crew, the environment and those ashore. His shortcomings might have been overcome had he received specific training in crisis management
  • there is a need for published advice concerning passage planning through the Pentland Firth to be reviewed with the aim of providing consistency and clarity


Recommendations are aimed at improving measures to prevent, and extinguish, similar fires in the future, and to reduce unacceptable risks associated with loaded chemical tankers when transiting particular areas of concern.

This report was published on 21 July 2000.

Published 23 January 2015