By Kim Smiley
In a grueling rescue effort, 427 people were saved from a passenger ferry, Norman Atlantic, which caught fire December 28, 2014 off the coast of Greece. About 150 people managed to escape the fire in lifeboats, but the remaining passengers were lifted to safety via helicopter. Gale force winds, heavy rain and darkness all combined to make a difficult rescue operation even more daunting. Ten people died as a result of the accident with few details known about what caused the fatalities.
A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be built to analyze this incident. The investigation is just beginning and there are still many unknowns, but an initial Cause Map can be begun that can easily be expanded to incorporate new information as it becomes available. Even the exact number of people onboard has been difficult to determine because there were several stowaways discovered during the rescue operations that weren’t listed on the ship’s manifest.
What is known is that the fire began early in the morning of December 28th and 427 people were rescued off the ferry. Early reports are that the fire started on the parking deck where there were tanker trucks filled with oil. Witness accounts indicate that the fire spread fairly quickly, leading to speculation that the fire doors failed. As the fire progressed, the ship lost power. Once power was gone, the lifeboats were useless because they require electricity to be lowered. The heat from the fire drove passengers to the top deck and bridge where they were bombarded by cold, rain and thick smoke for many miserable and likely terrifying hours. Helicopters pulled passengers to safety one by one, working through the windy night with night vision goggles.
In a stark contrast to the South Korea ferry that capsized off Byungpoong in April, the captain was the last person to leave the Norman Atlantic. The rescue effort was truly impressive. As Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said, the “massive and unprecedented operation saved the lives of hundreds of passengers following the fire on the ship in the Adriatic Sea under the most difficult circumstances.”
The Italian Transport Ministry has seized the vessel pending an investigation into the fire and thorough inspection of the ship. Whenever a disaster of this magnitude occurs, it is worth understanding exactly what happened and reviewing what could be done better in the future. There will be many lessons to learn from this incident, both in how to prevent and fight shipboard fires and how to perform helicopter rescues at sea.
To view a high level Cause Map of this incident, click on “Download PDF” above.