Marine Accident Brief: Engineroom Fire on the U.S. Passenger Vessel Columbia in Wrangell Narrows, Near Wrangell, Alaska, on May 28, 2003

About 1:21 a.m. on May 28, 2003, the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry Columbia, departed Petersburg, Alaska, en route to Wrangell, Alaska. The ferry had three ship-service diesel generators located in the auxiliary engine room. Shortly after the Columbia left port, a fire was discovered in the area of the No. 2 generator's cooling fan ports and beneath the turbocharger of the No. 2 generator's diesel engine. Two members of the firefighting team discovered that the air filter on the turbocharger of the generator was on fire, producing billowing smoke. The burning air filter was removed from the air intake, and the fire was extinguished. After electrical power was fully restored, the crew restarted the two main engines and the voyage to Wrangell was resumed. An initial examination of generator No. 2 showed that much of the copper wiring in the lower part of the generator had melted and vaporized. In an in-depth failure analysis, the remaining windings were removed and inspected for evidence of improper assembly or insulation failures. The examiner concluded that the insulation breakdown had occurred in the lower part of the generator, which had been mostly destroyed. He further concluded that a previous electrical event had caused aging or hard spots in at least one of the windings near the bottom of the generator. This caused a short between turns which increased the current in that coil. The heat was eventually enough to cause additional turns to become shorted and then to start the melting process in the winding. As the molten copper started to flow, it shorted windings phase to phase, and the event quickly became a catastrophic failure. The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the fire and the destruction of the wiring in the No. 2 ship-service generator on the Columbia was a breakdown in the generator's wiring insulation.


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  • Media Type: Web
  • Features: Figures;
  • Pagination: 5p

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01003097
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Report/Paper Numbers: NTSB/MAB-04/02
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Aug 14 2005 11:12PM