Fire started by cigarette butt killed one on ship

At the end of last week, at 7.00 am, Novi Albert Lombogia was still on duty as a canteen helper on the passenger ship MV Sabuk Nusantara 91, which was docked at Masalembu Harbor in Sumenep and was about to continue its journey to Keramian Island. 

MV Sabuk Nusantara 91. Photo credit: Pelini

But all of a sudden, a fire broke out and Novi died from burns as a result. The fire, which caused minimal damage to the ship, was extinguished quickly, and three passengers were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.

Evacuation of victims. Photo credit: Sumenep Police

Adjunct Police Commissioner Widiarti, Sumenep Police spokesperson, told journalist: “Smoke suddenly came out from the right side of the passenger deck and then a fire broke out. The fire was caused by a cigarette butt from one of the passengers, which was dropped onto a mattress.

“The fire was extinguished quickly and burned down only one room on the ship.  There were four victims, one died from burns and the other three were hospitalized for smoke inhalation.”

Crowds milling alongside MV Sabuk Nusantara 91. Photo credit: Sumenep Police

Endang Suroso, a senior firefighter in the city of Surabaya, told Maritime Fairtrade cigarette butts have the potential to cause fires quickly, especially if there are flammable items laying around.

“Fires always start small, they smolder, produce a lot of white smoke and then they become a big fire. In science, this is known as the law of T squared.  In the MV Sabuk Nusantara 91 incident, it was fortunate that the fire was extinguished before it had the chance to reach flammable items.  As we all know, on a ship, there are many flammable items, and there is a potential for big explosions which may cause many casualties.

“Therefore, there should not be indiscriminate smoking all over the ship with strong enforcement action to deter illegal smoking.  There must be a designated smoking area, equipped with a fire extinguisher and away from flammable items.  Smokers must also be made aware to extinguish their cigarette butts entirely before disposal.”

Fire at the port of Surabaya. Photo credit: Surabaya City Fire Department

As a firefighter in a port city, Suroso said there were a few incidents of burning ships in the last few years.  For example, in July, two wooden boats at Kalimas Harbor were burnt entirely by a small fire which started in the galley.  Extinguishing the fire took two hours but fortunately, no one died.  He added it is important to follow all safety protocol and all crew members should have firefighting training, and reminded that it is important to stop the fire early before it gets too big. 

A Surabaya City firefighter. Photo credit: Surabaya City Fire Department

Badrus Zaman, marine transportation researcher, Sepuluh Nopember Institute of Technology (ITS) Surabaya, stated safety should always be a priority for ship operators. Safety equipment must always be available, certified ready for use and regularly maintained to ensure they are in tiptop condition.  Importantly too, crew members must be trained on how to use safety equipment.

Top photo credit: iStock/ Prathaan. Stock photo of firefighters.

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo

Ibnu Wibowo, Indonesia journalist, is a former political journalist with high dedication and determination to his craft. He is interested in writing about politics and international relations.

The best maritime news and insights delivered to you.

Here's what you can expect from us:

  • News & key insights covering the maritime industry
  • Expert analysis and opinions on maritime corruption and more
  • Exclusive interviews