A towing vessel crew’s inability to close windows and doors when a fire began in the engine room nearly cost them their lives, according to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigated the incident.

The January 24, 2018 fire on the George King – which was pushing 30 empty barges upbound on the Lower Mississippi River - began in the engine room and quickly spread to other parts of the vessel.

The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the fire was the ignition of oil spraying from the pressurized lube oil strainer on the port main diesel engine. What made it more severe were two factors:

  • the fixed-open engine room ventilation system and
  • the inability of the crew to close all engine room windows and doors, which allowed the fire to spread and would have limited the effectiveness of the halon fixed firefighting system had it been activated

After unsuccessfully trying to extinguish the blaze, the crew was forced to abandon ship.

No pollution or injuries were reported, but the estimated property damage exceeded $500,000.