Marine news release 2005

TSB # M09/2005

TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD OF CANADA FINDS DEFICIENCIES IN EMERGENCY RESPONSE AND PASSENGER SAFETY REGARDING THE FIRE ON BOARD THE JOSEPH AND CLARA SMALLWOOD FERRY ON MAY 12, 2003

(Halifax, Nova Scotia, October 27, 2005) - The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) releases its final report (M03N0050) today into a fire on the passenger ferry Joseph and Clara Smallwood on May 12, 2003.

The TSB report concludes that the fire started around a tractor-trailer on the lower vehicle deck of the vessel. Over the course of its investigation, the TSB found deficiencies related to issues of passenger safety and emergency response, representing potential safety risks to passengers and crew. In almost every instance, the agencies responsible have taken appropriate safety action.

The passenger safety issues identified include findings that the fire alarm was not sounded in the passenger areas, that passengers were unaccounted for, that passengers were not regularly advised or updated about the situation, and that they were unnecessarily exposed to a potentially unsafe environment when they were directed to retrieve their vehicles upon arrival. The report also notes that some passengers, particularly commercial truckers, remained in their vehicles during the crossing another potential risk.

Other deficiencies addressed relate to emergency response issues. Among these are the lack of crowd control and crisis management training for crew, an inadequate knowledge in the operation of the fire detection system and the absence of documentation for a dangerous goods cargo on board.

Because of the importance of the safety deficiencies identified, the Board did not wait for the release of its final report to take action. It issued four safety communications to the appropriate stakeholders - the first within weeks of the incident - to improve safety immediately. These communications addressed the inadequate training of crew, preventing passengers from staying in their vehicles, improving internal communications and fire detection systems, and positioning of emergency lights.

Despite significant action taken as a result of the TSB investigation, safety concerns remain. These concerns highlight areas where problems may exist but have not yet revealed themselves to be significant unsafe conditions. The Board will continue to monitor the situation in future investigations to ensure that these concerns are not indicative of wider systemic deficiencies that require immediate attention.

On May 12, 2003, the Joseph and Clara Smallwood departed on a regularly scheduled crossing from North Sydney, Nova Scotia, to Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and Labrador. It was carrying 138 passengers and a crew of 80. At about eight nautical miles from Port aux Basques, a fire was discovered around a tractor-trailer on the lower vehicle deck. The deluge system started and the crew began to fight the fire as the ferry continued on. Three and a half hours after its arrival, the fire was put out with the help of the local volunteer fire department. Two crew members suffered minor injuries. Paramedics also examined and later released two passengers. The ferry and its cargo sustained some damage.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault of determine civil or criminal liability.

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The public report and other related documents are available on this site.

Report number M03N0050
Background and Fact Sheet 1: Safety Action Taken
Background and Fact Sheet 2: Safety Concerns
Photo Gallery




The TSB is an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.

For more information, contact:
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Media Relations
Telephone: 819-994-8053
Email: media@tsb.gc.ca