HONOLULU (KHON2) — The National Transportation Safety Board has determined the cause of the 2021 fire aboard the Honolulu-based fishing vessel Blue Dragon. The vessel left Honolulu in October 2021 to fish for swordfish and tuna in the North Pacific Ocean. Two weeks later, it caught fire 350 miles west of Monterey.

The fire resulted in more than $500,000 in damage to the vessel. There were no injuries or deaths.

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On Nov. 9, 2021, while the crew was preparing to retrieve fishing gear, a fire was discovered in the wheelhouse under the console. The six crewmembers and a National Marine Fisheries Service observer were unsuccessful in putting the fire out and had to abandon the vessel.

A Good Samaritan vessel rescued them, and the Blue Dragon was later towed to San Pedro, California.

A Coast Guard Air Station Sacramento C-27 Spartan aircrew observes the commercial fishing vessel Blue Dragon on fire approximately 350 miles west of Monterey, Calif., November 10, 2021.

(Courtesy: U. S. Coast Guard)

The NTSB’s investigation determined that the probable cause of the fire was from an unknown source that was likely electrical in nature, which ignited the wooden wheelhouse console. The use of combustible materials in the wheelhouse also contributed to the extent of the fire damage.

Blue Dragon wheelhouse exterior (left) and interior looking forward (right), after the 2021 fire. The framing of the false deck in right image indicates the location of what was the wheelhouse deck. (Courtesy: Coast Guard)

The NTSB identified two lessons learned from this investigation:

  1. Substandard electrical installation and outfitting — such as bare wires, overloaded circuits and household wiring not designed for marine use — is a common cause of electrical fires aboard vessels. Batteries have also been identified as ignition sources of fires. Electrical systems on vessels should be secure in design and installation in accordance with marine standards to prevent fires.
  2. In this incident, the activation of the vessel’s Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon contributed to the survival of the crew. The EPIRB helps validate the vessel’s position. Using a Satellite Emergency Notification Device helps responders identify the nature of the emergency. In this case, someone on the vessel sent an SOS along with the text “fire.” The NTSB says vessel owners and operators can ensure the safety of their crews by bringing these additional satellite technologies to supplement EPIRBs.

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The Blue Dragon was rebuilt from the main deck up and placed back in service in August 2022.

To read the full marine investigation report, click here.