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What caused the Simshar explosion?

The preliminary report into the Simshar tragedy has failed to establish exactly what caused the explosion which sank the craft and killed all its crew but one.

Dr Ann Fenech said in a report tabled in Parliament this evening that it was extremely difficult to come up with a logical cause for the explosion if one accepted all that the survivor, Simon Bugeja, said about the LPG gas being stored on the roof of the bridge and about there not being any flammable gas or fuel inside the engine room.

Expert Alfred Vella was not able to advise what could have possibly caused an explosion in those circumstances. Given that the witness saw smoke coming out of the engine room, one had to assume that at the time, some material must have already been on fire, and emitting the smoke, Dr Fenech argued.

That said, the fire and smoke already present in the engine room could not have been that great, otherwise Simon Bugeja would not have been able to go to the engine room to disconnect the fuel pipes. According to Mr Bugeja, the explosion took place immediately afterwards.

"Prof Vella concludes by stating that the only way that he can explain how the explosion could have happened is by disregarding what the witness said about the LPG tanks being on the bridge. In his opinion, it is likely that the source of the explosive material would have been a leak from the LPG being carried on board the vessel in a place which would have allowed the accumulation of the gas, which then exploded the moment an ignition source came near it.

"An alternative to this is that the engine room had containers with flammable liquid which in the heat of the existing fire emitting the black smoke, melted and the flammable liquid escaped. That caused the first explosion. That was followed by a fire which was severe enough to heat the gas tanks on the roof of the bridge, which then exploded, causing the second, large explosion which threw them all into the water."

This, Dr Fenech said, would be consistent with Simon Bugeja's second account of how the explosion took place.

The full report can be seen at:

http://doi.gov.mt/EN/press_releases/2009/06/pr1118a.pdf

See also:

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090630/local/bugeja-says-he-did-not-know-how-to-operate-simshar-safety-equipment

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090630/local/simshar-lack-of-coordination-in-search-efforts

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20090630/local/simshar-tragedy-evidence-gives-credence-to-survivors-account

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