UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB): Investigation report on engine room fire onboard the Pride of Canterbury

Figure 10 - Photograph showing fire damage around starboard main engines Deck 2

The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) posted the report of its investigation of a main engine room fire on board the ro-ro passenger ferry Pride of Canterbury while berthing in Calais on 29 September 2014. The back pressure valve in the starboard controllable pitch propeller hydraulic system jammed shut, causing the oil pressure in the return line to rise, leading to a rupture in the pipework joint. The rupture sprayed oil onto the exhaust uptakes, causing a significant fire in the engine room, which was extinguished by the ship’s hi-fog system.

Photograph of Pride of Canterbury


On 29 September 2014 as Pride of Canterbury was approaching Calais, it became apparent that the starboard controllable pitch propeller was not responding, so the starboard shaft was declutched and the two starboard main engines were stopped. The prevailing weather conditions were such that the master was content to proceed using one shaft and one bow thruster. As the ship approached its berth, a pipework joint in the starboard controllable pitch propeller system ruptured, spraying oil on to the exhaust uptakes, starting a fire. The main engine room was evacuated, the general emergency alarm was sounded and the passengers were mustered at emergency stations. The ferry berthed safely, the fire was extinguished using the ship’s hi-fog system and a fire hose, and the passengers and cargo were disembarked normally.

The investigation determined that the back pressure valve in the starboard controllable pitch propeller hydraulic system had jammed shut, resulting in the return line oil pressure rising to the point where a flanged pipework joint failed. The failed joint, along with others in the system, was not shielded to prevent a spray of oil in the event of joint failure. The back pressure valve was found to be worn and had not been tested for functionality during its 23 years of service.

Safety issues

  • The potential for the whole controllable pitch propeller hydraulic system to experience high pressure had not been adequately considered.
  • The method for annually testing the controllable pitch propeller system’s back pressure and safety relief valves was not specified.
  • The lack of a high pressure alarm prevented immediate awareness of high pressure in the system.
  • An effective joint shield could have prevented the spray of oil onto the hot engine uptake.
  • The storage of combustible materials near the two main engines allowed the fire to spread.

Actions taken/recommendations

P&O Ferries has completed a programme of modifications to Pride of Canterbury and its three sister ships as they attend refit. Wartsila has issued a technical bulletin specifying back pressure valves should be replaced after 15 years and Lloyd’s Register has been recommended (2015/153) to propose to the International Association of Classification Societies a unified requirement for high pressure alarms to be fitted in controllable pitch propeller systems.

Full report is available at the bottom.

Photograph of fire damage on Pride of Canterbury

MAIB report pride of
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  1. Before making any comment, I can only commend the Master, the ship's officers and crew for their professional response to the emergency. "Well done" is an understatement.
    For a number of years, I was a relief Master in one of the sister ships and in other ships in the same fleet. In that time I experienced a number of incidents including ER fires and pitch failures which is not unexpected over a period of years. Pitch failure can be rather unexpected but training scenarios can prove their work as was evident in this case. Imagination on the part of the ship's command structure can produce a number of useful "what-if" scenarios that can significantly and favourably change the outcome of such incidents.
    Unfortunately there is one uncontrollable element in such events these days. Mobile phones and the facility to record and transmit "eye witness" visual reports can show up some of the worst characteristics of the travelling and uninformed public. A lorry driver posted video of smoke from a ventilation shaft as his eye witness contribution to the event. I understand that, due to his own stupidity, he was the only "casualty" due to smoke inhalation!
    C'est la vie.

    • Captain Minns, As a career fire officer specialized in Marine Fire Fighting it is great to read your praise for the crew's professional response. Should you feel P & O Ferries would benefit from updated onboard site specific marine fire fighting training conducted on P & O's vessels I would be very pleased to discuss the team training we provide seafarers.

      We are so sure your crew's and management would find our training beneficial, we would like to offer P & O a free introductory training session for one of your crew's in order to give P & O an opportunity to see for themselves how our training increases the emergency response team's capabilities responding to any fire emergency aboard their vessel.

      We are currently training British Columbia Ferry Services, one of the largest ferry corporations in North America, and have done so for the past 18 years producing excellent results.

      Best Rgds,

      Randy Morton
      Vice President
      AGI Shipboard Fire Service Ltd

      • Randy,
        Thank you for your kind endorsement of my comments.
        In reply, I am now retired and am no longer employed by P&O Ferries. The management of the incident showed that their training was of a high standard.
        Secondly, geography may play a part in your offer: I am sure that you have realised that P&O Ferries operate between the UK and mainland Europe.
        Best regards

  2. Hi,
    Sad to hear of the accident
    Unfortunately accidents happens and the corrective measures are always retroactive because it is hardly possible to envisage in advance all the dangerous situations in detail and make provision for.. Only by the experience we learn something.
    Of course a top company trained crew has prevented the worse, but as personal comment, over the alarms , the system should not have flanged joints on the oil pressure side, joints are unreliable especiall;y after many years in service.I would say that a system pressure relief valve set at the15% of the max working pressure should give a sufficient safety prevent blow ups but all the jointed flages should be eliminated and replaced with O ring seals or screw couplings,
    With the years of service the flange bolts (if not made of high tensile steel,8.8 and above), have the tendency to stretch losing the flange joint compression and........