Google Barges' lack of fire-safety features caused their early demise

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Mariella Moon
November 7, 2014 3:22 AM
In this article: google, googlebarge
Google Barges' lack of fire-safety features caused their early demise

Google's four-story barges didn't even get the chance to shed their safety nets before the project was scrapped. We mean that literally, as one of the four barges was dismantled and sold for scrap in August. Now, we finally know not only the reason for that, but also that the project was put on hold way before we even found out about the vessels last year, all because of fire safety issues. According to documents relevant to the project, the barges' contractor (Foss Maritime Co.) was forced to shut down construction due to several fire-safety concerns raised by the Coast Guard. Since Google wanted to turn the vessels into floating showrooms, they would have hosted a steady stream of visitors per day, so authorities were mainly worried about overcrowding.

The company promised to limit the number of passengers on board to 150 at any one time despite expecting 1,200 people to visit every day, but authorities weren't convinced. In an email that Coast Guard official Robert Gauvin sent Foss Maritime in March 2013, he said Google didn't inform them of any anti-overcrowding measures. Having more people than the vessels can carry can be fatal, because the barges, Gauvin wrote, "will have over 5,000 gallons of fuel on the main deck and a substantial amount of combustible material on board."

More importantly, the contractor failed to "incorporate certain fire safety features typically required," the Coast Guard said in an separate email from August last year. So much so, that they couldn't even tell if "evacuation of disabled persons has been considered" when the barges were designed. Along with private fire safety companies, the authorities put together a 20-page document detailing the fire-safety features Google will need to incorporate into the barges' design. But, since the project was still suspended indefinitely in September 2013, we're assuming Mountain View found it easier to scrap at least one of the vessels instead of trying to fix the issue.

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