December 2023: Vessel fuel systems
This safety update is for
- Primarily for recognised surveyors (including authorised persons), and owners and operators of domestic commercial vessels
- other people working in the commercial boating industry, particularly those involved with inspecting, testing or repairing fuel tanks and piping systems, may also find it useful.
On 10 September last year, the vessel i-Catcher with 11 people onboard departed South Bay, Kaikoura. The 10 passengers were members of a Nature Photography Society of New Zealand. About two hours into the excursion, the vessel capsized. Five of those onboard were trapped under it and sadly passed away, after being exposed to petrol fumes.
An investigation by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC) found that flaws in the
i-Catcher’s fuel system ‘almost certainly allowed fuel to leak into the air pocket of the upturned vessel and very likely reduced the survivability of the incident’. The link to TAIC’s preliminary report is at the end of this update.
As part of its report, TAIC recommended that Maritime NZ alert all recognised surveyors:
- to the importance of conducting and documenting inspections of a vessel's complete fuel system during surveys, and
- to check vessels they are surveying have undergone a recent complete inspection of the
Maritime NZ reminds recognised surveyors of the importance of conducting and documenting inspections of a vessel’s fuel system during surveys. Surveyors should check the records of vessels they have surveyed to identify whether the vessel’s complete fuel system was thoroughly inspected at the most recent survey and, if not, then this should be done at the next scheduled survey.
Surveyors should also ensure that the fuel system complies with applicable Maritime Rules. Surveyors should note the relevant survey items under ‘Fluid transfer systems’ and ‘Propulsion and steering systems’ of the Survey Report Template generator.
Over the coming months, Maritime NZ will consult recognised surveyors and authorised persons on proposed additions to the Survey Performance Requirements (SPRs) relating to vessel fuel systems.
Domestic commercial owners and operators
TAIC has also recommended that Maritime NZ alert all industry stakeholders to the importance of inspecting a vessel’s complete fuel system to assure its integrity and safety.
Maritime NZ reminds domestic commercial owners and operators that they must:
- ensure the safety of the vessel at all times1
- develop and maintain a maintenance plan that describes the policies and procedures to maintain the vessel, including the vessel's hull, decks, and superstructure, and the vessel’s machinery, equipment, and critical shipboard systems.2
1Maritime Rule 19.62(2)(a).
2Maritime Rule 19.45.
Owners and operators to make sure they have adequate control measures in place
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, domestic commercial owners and operators must have control measures in place to eliminate the risk of harm to workers and others from their work, so far as is reasonably practicable. For owners and operators of commercial passenger vessels, this includes the duty to ensure the health and safety of passengers and crew so far as is reasonably practicable. If risks cannot be eliminated, they must be minimised, so far as is reasonably practicable. This includes measures should an incident occur (despite their best efforts), such as a capsize. If in doubt, owners and operators should seek expert advice to develop such measures.
Owners and operators to inspect and maintain their vessel’s fuel system
Owners and operators should be familiar with their vessel’s fuel system and the functions of its components – for example, hoses, pipework, level gauges. Unless it was checked recently, Maritime NZ strongly encourages owners and operators to inspect (or arrange for an expert to inspect) their vessel’s fuel system as soon as practicable, particularly if the owner or operator:
- has never inspected the vessel’s fuel system, or
- is not familiar with the vessel’s fuel system, or
- is not familiar with the vessel’s history, or
- is not familiar with any modifications carried out on the vessel or its fuel system.
The inspection should be as thorough as is practicable. For example, if the tank is fixed-in-place (non-portable), this may require the removal of deck plates or other fittings, or removal of the fuel tank from its place of installation so that the space underneath can be inspected.
Below are some examples of parts of the fuel tank or system that owners and operators should check. This is not an exhaustive list – there may be parts which owners and operators need to check that are not listed here. Owners and operators should contact a specialist or their surveyor if they have any doubts about accessing any part of their fuel system.
- Check the integrity of the fuel tank structure. For example, cracks or deformities, the condition of welds, corrosion.
- Check if the tank is mounted securely and that there are no signs of wear/abrasion due
- Refer to the results of any pressure tests of the fuel tank and if there are any concerns, consider arranging a new test.
- Check for leaks in the fuel tank or pipes. For example, is there fuel in tank space or bilges?
- Check if tank fittings and connections are secure and of suitable material/size for the purpose. For example, hose clips or clamps connecting fuel and vent lines and level gauges. Metal clamps are preferable to plastic which may deteriorate.
- Check that level gauges allow safe means of measuring tank contents. Rules that are specific to vessel type may apply.
- If possible, owners and operators should obtain a copy of the design drawings of their fuel tank and check the design standards of the tank and fittings.
- Check that fuel lines and other fuel system pipework is secure, in good condition and of suitable material. Check for holes, splits, and areas which may rub and cause abrasion in the lines.
- Check whether the fuel tank has shut-off valves. The Maritime Rules may have additional requirements such as an automatic or remote shut-off valve, depending on vessel type.
- Check if fuel tank vents and filling points are located in a safe open-air position.
- Check if the opening of the vent pipe from the (petrol) tank is protected by a flash-proof fitting and if the flash-proof fitting is in good condition and free from blockages.
- Check whether there is a risk of hydrocarbon vapours from fuel building up where a source of ignition may be present. If there is a risk of this occurring, a hydrocarbon gas detector must3 be fitted under or adjacent to the (petrol) tank.
- Check if fuel filters/water separators are secure and accessible. Are they regularly checked and cleaned/changed according to a servicing schedule?
- Check if fuel pumps or primers are secure and fit for purpose.
- Check whether fuel tanks and other fuel system components are electrically grounded
3Rule 40A.33. There are similar requirements in other Rules, eg, Rule 40C, 40D, 40E. Owners and operators should check which Rules apply to their vessel type.
Transport Accident Investigation Commission
Contact us for more help
If you have any questions about this safety update, please contact our Wellington office.
New Zealand (toll free):
0508 225 522
Calling from outside New Zealand:
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Tell us what you need help with and remember to include your contact details (email address and phone numbers).