Fire, explosions and other thermal events

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Boat fires and explosions are not a new phenomenon, but what happens to the investigation when drone footage captures the event?

Such was the case when Kurt Roll sent a drone to capture the yacht Polar Bear in San Diego engulfed in flames, with the plumes of black smoke billowing out of it visible for miles.

In June 2014, the 102-foot Polar Bear struck ground entering the San Diego Harbor. Once placed on supports in dry-dock, it was discovered that she had sustained severe damage to the steel hull, requiring extensive hot work repair. During the cutting, grinding, and welding repairs, the vessel caught fire and after hours engulfed in flames, Polar Bear was destroyed.

This year’s Marine Law Symposium by the American Boat & Yacht Council, set to take place Jan. 7 in New Orleans, La., will focus on fires and explosions, and will use current cases to help educate attendees about how technology comes into play during investigations.

“The agenda is in response to the comments we’ve gotten over the years,” ABYC president John Adey told Trade Only Today. “The fires and explosions seem to get the most interest, and the most questions … so we decided to limit this to fires and explosions — and there was no shortage of people sending in applications to speak.”

What makes the cases interesting and applicable today is the technological component, said Adey.

“The Polar Bear fire was a case that had a viral video of drone footage, so that was really interesting,” said Adey, adding that this type of footage can change the whole investigation. “We have some other cases that have a little bit of nefarious action going on there, whether it was an arson case or not. It was pretty spectacular drone footage.”

Experts Loren Griswold of Griswold Consulting and Jesse A. Grantham of Welding and Joining Management Group will analyze the case and walk attendees through the series of events, and discuss how the footage steered part of the investigation.

The Marine Law Symposium is designed for surveyors, attorneys that specialize in marine, manufacturers, designers and dealers to learn more about liability, insurance coverage, and what to do in the event of disaster, said Adey, but it is expanding its attendee base.

“There’s been an influx of new attendees every year, and I think it’s great more and more people want to know what’s going on,” said Adey. “We get a lot of attorneys asking if they can send clients to it.”

The Black Case will deal with documentation of engineering changes that can play a vital role in product defense, said Adey, adding that recent litigation against GM, Toyota, and pharmaceutical companies have changed the culture of today’s verdicts.

“The Black Case was a huge loss for Brunswick, but everyone learned a lot from that case,” said Adey. “It was a situation where the evidence pointed in one direction, but the jury went in another direction.”

Christina Paul of K&L Gates and Brunswick Corp.’s David Marlow will review the “milestone marine product’s case” and show the importance of sustaining engineering, key documentation retention and supplier approvals.

A study led by Robert Kochan and Christopher Graham of Forensic Marine Investigations International will focus on a marina fire that resulted in the loss of two lives, 24 vessels, and much of the marina property.

“With over 100 associated parties involved, this case had the complexity of extensive property damage combined with the devastating ramifications of human loss,” says the description on the Marine Law Symposium agenda. “This presentation discusses how to handle thorough examinations and associated parties throughout the course of a complicated investigation.”

Experts will also discuss how to approach fire scene investigation in general.

“A lot of people in audience want to get started in fire investigation and this will help out quite a lot,” said Adey.

One point that remains consistent during the law symposiums is the importance of having insurance with companies that specialize in or are familiar with marine coverage.

“The quality of the insurance company definitely comes into play on this, and whether the insurance company is really designed for marine, and knows to get marine investigators, or whether they just grab someone out of the phone book,” said Adey.

That’s even more true in fire events, since fire science cases are different than any other type of case, said Adey. That makes it essential to have experts and counsel who understand both the fire origin and cause investigation aspect of a claim, as well as how fire science cases are presented to a jury.

This year’s symposium will feature some of the favorite speakers along with new presenters, and will include more networking opportunities as a result of attendee feedback, said Adey.

“We’ve built in more networking time because there are a lot of ongoing case discussions between attorneys, and people want to have the ability to find an expert at the event — so if you’re an expert looking to connect with attorneys, this is a great place to go,” said Adey.

Early bird registration and pricing for the event, which will take place at the Double Tree by Hilton in New Orleans, ends Friday. 

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