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Fire Aboard La Diva
Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 3:40 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 392

Dockwalk magazine's regular column, What Went Wrong by Kelly Sanford, highlights a different marine accident each month, focusing on the lessons learned. We've received feedback that some readers would like to comment on it. So we're republishing it in the forum so you can have your say.

The October 2010 column recounts a story of
 motor yacht La Diva, which was lost in a fire in West Palm Beach.



Early Sunday, June 27, 2010, 911 emergency operators in West Palm Beach, Florida, received an urgent phone call from the captain of M/Y La Diva. Battalion Chief Kevin Green with the West Palm Beach Fire Department’s Training, Safety and Special Operations Division, says, “He was very clear about the situation and fire/smoke conditions on the vessel. He was also very clear about the vessel being at the north end of Rybovich Marina and the need to get firefighters there as soon as possible.”

Earlier that morning, members of the crew said they had noticed an exhaust leak in the engine room as they were arriving in Palm Beach from The Bahamas. By the time the vessel was secured at Rybovich Marina, the engine room was on fire and the crew realized they needed to evacuate the vessel. Green says that the crew’s decision to voluntarily evacuate the vessel was the right decision. When firefighters arrived on the scene, there was no “immediate life safety risk.”

Green explains that fires aboard boats are the outliers for local fire departments and always present firefighters with dangerous, difficult circumstances. In a house or building, Green says, firefighters don’t typically face complicated firefighting hazards like thousands of gallons of fuel, watertight doors, complex interior layouts and superstructures that become extraordinarily toxic once on fire. Complicating matters, “With the La Diva fire, there was eight hundred feet between our trucks and equipment and the fire,” Green says.

In fighting the La Diva fire, several experienced firefighters were injured and/or hospitalized. “Two were injured in a flashover event (sudden engulfment of fire) inside the yacht during the initial entry to locate and extinguish the fire,” Green says. Despite a day-long effort to fight and contain the fire, the vessel was a total loss.

The fire department was unable to determine the exact cause of the fire.

“The vessel burned for many hours and possible fuel leaks occurred,”Green says. “To determine the exact cause and origin of the fire…would have been nearly impossible. The duration of the fire consumed nearly all combustible materials on the vessel.”

Because boat fires are rare in the grand scheme of land-based firefighting, each event brings new opportunities to learn how to better manage these incidents. The collective departments of South Florida try to share information and develop safe strategies for firefighters called upon to extinguish the next boat fire, which inevitably will come.

Green offers these preventative tips. “Ensure that the captain and crew fully understand all of the built-in fire suppression systems, including their operation, use and maintenance. [Make sure] the systems are kept up to date through inspection and certification. [And] conduct regular fire [and evacuation] drills with passengers and crew.” He continues, “The best solution for stopping a fire on a vessel is a built-in fire suppression system. It is critical that fires on vessels are extinguished in the earliest stage to prevent the fire from growing.”

Green also reminds crew that an equally important priority is the elimination of what firefighters call a “life safety risk.” Before any members of the crew decide to play the hero to save property, they should carefully consider that their decisions may very well put their own lives and the lives of others at risk.

In land-based firefighter communities, a majority of firefighters never set foot aboard a yacht prior to entering one that’s on fire. Imagine if on your first day on a yacht – green as can be off the docks – you were asked to don a SCBA and bunker gear and then find the engine room while blindfolded. “Fighting a fire on a yacht is very different than fighting a fire in a building – which is what we train for and do day in and day out,” Green says.

WPBFD’s Chief Fire Prevention Officer, Michael Carsillo, says, “The yachting community should embrace the efforts of land-based firefighters and support their efforts.They should invite firefighters to perform pre-incident planning activities of their yachts, develop response plans and actively train with land-based firefighters.”


Green explains that this type of planning serves the dual function of providing the crew with valuable training advice and guidance and also gives firefighters the ability to envision fighting a fire aboard a vessel and adapt their frame of reference under a controlled environment.

When asked if the crew of La Diva could have done things differently, Green says, “Not sure if [they] could have done anything different. The fire was contained [to] the vessel and all crew were safely off [when firefighters arrived]… The boat captain and crew met the fire captain on the dock and tried to convey sufficient information to guide the firefighters…[WPBFD] cannot speculate as to the cause of the fire. Everything was so badly burned that we have only the word of the captain and crew to go by. It’s up to the insurance company to determine if circumstances warrant further investigation.”

Posted: Tuesday, September 14, 2010 11:03 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Some years ago I was moored in a Marina several yacht down from a yacht who burnt to the waterline. The first thing the fire department did was take a steel cable and permanently fix the burning yacht to the quay so that they could smother the inferno with a foam generator. If the yacht burns its mooring lines and floats free of the firefighters, the whole marina will go up in flames.
Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:51 AM
So, they got the fire out; no-one was hurt and that's, great...but what went wrong? that is where the real lessons are. Also, I heard the vessel was already on fire when the Captain drove into the marina. If this is true then maybe we should discuss that. Should he have entered the port on fire?
Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 1:36 PM
Joined: 02/05/2008
Posts: 40

Anonymous, Good questions, both of them. Regarding What Went Wrong, I think the ultimate lesson here in terms of what went wrong, is that often we never get to find out what exactly went wrong. I know that sounds like a lame answer, but it is an important one. Many times in this forum people will ask why I don’t site a flag state or port state report, or why the captain was not held accountable or why the licensing agencies don’t do this or that, and the harsh reality is that flag states and port states almost never investigate or document non-fatal incidents aboard pleasure registry vessels unless their own resources are dispatched at the time of the accident. This means that many times, investigations into even these seemingly major incidents are very cursory, which leaves only the Pandora’s Box of speculation for any opportunities for the collective yachting community to learn from.

The industry is divided on the merits of speculation after the fact (or in absence of fact). Some people feel that it is a good learning exercise to theorize on maybes, and others believe that is taboo. That is the purpose of this forum: to let the yachting community have a platform for discussing these things at their own comfort threshold. Something WPBFD did not come right out and say, but repetitively implied is that there was an issue with the fire suppression system in the engine room. Regrettably, I have no more information than that.

I’m glad you asked your second question – a great one by the way. I did ask WPBFD the same question about whether a boat should come to the dock or stay out at sea if it is already on fire and because of word count limitations could only address it peripherally in the text, so here’s the verbatim Q&A.

Q) Is the coast guard better prepared for fighting a fire on board a vessel? If the crew can safely abandon ship and the vessel does not pose an immediate threat to navigation, are vessel fires at sea easier to manage than a vessel fire at the dock?

A) “Generally, a boat fire at sea is easier to manage because there is nothing around it to burn. Once the crew is off the vessel, there is no life safety hazard. Fires on yachts at sea usually end the same... significant damage or total loss. A fire at the dock allows for land based firefighters (local fire departments) to fight the fire. But unless EVERYTHING goes perfectly, the results are generally the same... or possibly worse; firefighters killed or injured trying to save property. Firefighters are aggressive as a rule and will do whatever it takes to extinguish a fire. Unless a fire department is extremely disciplined, when arriving to find a "smoke showing" (no visible fire) situation, they will attempt to locate and fight the fire by boarding the vessel and initiating an interior fire attack.

The best solution for stopping a fire on a vessel is a built-in fire suppression system. It is critical that fires on vessels are extinguished in the earliest stage to prevent the fire from growing. These types of fires are very dangerous for occupants as well as municipal firefighters. Fighting a fire on a yacht is very different than fighting a fire in a building - which is what we train for and do day-in and day-out. Our frame of reference is fighting fires in buildings.

As for the Coast Guard, locally, they are not prepared to fight fires on boats. I can't speak for their firefighting ability in other areas of the state or country. To the best of my knowledge, they do not board vessels and initiate interior fire attacks. If they have a properly equipped vessel, they may operate in a defensive/exterior mode. Currently, the only fire department in Palm Beach County that has a fire boat is Boca Raton. But realize that once a fire boat begins operations, it is generally a defensive operation, meaning that the boat will most likely suffer significant damage or be a total loss”.

Posted: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 4:38 PM
Joined: 16/04/2009
Posts: 155

Hey All,

The photo used looks like the 105' Baia, ex Ivana (as in Trump). If so, it's not the first time she caught fire. They were traveling the Intercoastal back in the 90's and there was an engine room fire. If I recall, she sued Baia, though I don't know the outcome.

The Slacker

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 11:20 AM
Joined: 01/06/2008
Posts: 1061

I don't get this one. The boat should have had an engine room fire suppression system. Close the doors, shut down the ventilation, engage the dampers and turn on the gas be it CO2 or some other type. Leave the compartment sealed until everything has had enough time to cool so it doesn't reignite. Don't people run fire drills? Also, if they knew they had an exhaust leak, WTF were they doing running that engine?

Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 1:10 PM
Joined: 22/07/2009
Posts: 97

  THis week saw the supply vessels in exercising drills of the fire fighting hoses and cannons and it's impressive how far, strong and precise that water goes. I suppose that obviously it could send foam also, maybe not so far!


Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 4:24 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

I never understood that fire either. The yacht is alongside with fenders rigged to keep the awlgrip topsides protected ? In a full press, lets get a move on drill, it takes me 15 minutes to rig docklines, fenders and come alongside. They must have had considerable time to ponder the situation. Obvoiusly, with the engines running, they didnt choke off the engine room air supply...was it indeed an engine room fire ? Possible that the fire was a "behind the bulkhead" smoker and crew had limited access for fighting it .. also possible that the crew fired off all background fire suppression equipment , short of a hand held water pump, and decided to call it a day. What type of fire suppression equipment was fitted in the engine room ? Always with these articles there is no investigative interview with crew or captain. Also for any industrial firefighters out there..... What is the recommended fire suppression equipment for a densely packed, limited access , 2000 amp hour AGM battery bank ? Had a cell blow off last year and Ive been thinking of improving on the present CO2 system
Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 5:44 PM
Joined: 12/12/2008
Posts: 22

You’re dreaming Junior. There is no way the captain or crew is going to voluntarily talk to Dockwalk or anyone else for that matter and publicly admit what they did wrong. If they are not required to do it then they won’t do it because there is nothing in it for them but shame and humiliation. At least Dockwalk puts it out there for open discussion, which it looks like is a whole lot more than the fire department or insurance company did to learn anything. I would not hold my breath waiting for the captain to log on and tell us any details about what happened. My money says he is just keeping his head low and waiting for this to all magically go away which it eventually will. Always like getting a take on these things from guys like you and Henning though.
Posted: Friday, September 17, 2010 7:34 PM
Joined: 14/01/2009
Posts: 1024

Its a shame , the only emergency scenario on a yacht which terrifies me is fire.
 Average 4 out of 5