At approximately 10.35 am on 5 May 1998, a fire started in the main engine room of the HMAS Westralia as a result of a ruptured fuel hose which spread diesel fuel to an exposed indicator cock.
HMAS Westralia was approximately 20 km off the Western Australian Coast, near Rottnest Island, at the time of the incident. It was carrying a crew of 98. The engine room was drenched with carbon dioxide to isolate the fire and prevent it from reaching the 20,000 tonnes of highly flammable fuel on board. Four sailors were killed by acute smoke inhalation (carbon monoxide poisoning) within five minutes of the fire starting. Nine people required treatment for injuries, although many more suffered smoke inhalation.
A Coroner’s Court Inquest and a Royal Australian Navy Board of Inquiry found that the fire and subsequent deaths were caused by failings in the machinery and the actions of the company contracted to maintain it.
The crew fought bravely to save their ship but were unable to save midshipman Megan Pelly, Petty Officer Shaun Smith, Leading Seaman Bradley Meek and Able Seaman Phillip Carroll. RIP Shipmates. Never forgotten.