CASE STUDY – Engine Room Fire in 2009

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Fires on board ships can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo. Fire safety standards on board cannot afford to slip. At sea, fire poses one of the biggest threats to ships. Sailing alone and at sea throughout the year and without the ability to call upon the emergency services as a land-based asset might.

The financial effects from onboard engine room fires can run into millions of dollars. Often, after an engine room fire, a ship can rarely proceed under its own power leading to salvage, repairs, downtime and cancellations, all highly costly. Not just financially, but engine room fires can be detrimental to the integrity of a shipping company when the life of the passengers and crew are threatened by a fire. To ensure the status of the gaseous extinguishing systems, it is recommended to have an ultrasonic level indicator on board.

Case study: Engine Room Fire 2009

Here are the facts of this case study:

  • An incident occurred on 9th January 2009 when a fire erupted within the engine room, as the ship was en route from Ulsan to Ningbo.
  • The probable causes were identified within the investigation as a failure and explosion of the main engine crankcase.
  • This failure resulted in large quantities of hot oil mist and flammable vapour in the engine room, which was then ignited.
  • Overall, it was found that there were many issues regarding the state of the engine, but also with the maintenance and inspection of preventative equipment such as fire safety equipment and also a lack of leadership qualities shown by the crew masters and security managers.
  • In terms of the fire safety, the investigation showed that even though the fire detection and alarm systems were installed and previously inspected three months beforehand, both had failed during this incident, thus not alarming the crew at the appropriate times.
  • This was due to improper maintenance.
  • This result demonstrated that regular inspection fails to prevent failure if maintenance is inadequate.

Could you afford for this crippling financial, physical and reputational damage to happen to your crew and vessel? The correct answer for any ship owner, ship manager and P&I club is “No.”

“All aboard”: Fire safety onboard has to be taken up by us all across the industry

The UK P&I Club recommend that the high risk threat of engine room fires is recognised and that ship’s crew pay particular attention to training and the care, maintenance and correct operation of all fire fighting equipment. The issue goes further as the lack of knowledge of how to effectively control a fire has created difficulty in the past.

  • In one case, fire-fighting attempts were hindered by the ineffectiveness of the fire smothering system because of a lack of understanding of its correct method of deployment and lack of proper maintenance.
  • In another occasion, a Chief Engineer did not operate the CO2 system release mechanism correctly and, as a result, only one cylinder (of 43) was discharged which had a negligible effect on the fire. It is possible that he released a cylinder from the main bank of cylinders instead of a pilot cylinder in the mistaken belief that this would trigger the release of the requisite number of cylinders.

In other cases, it was found that the filter cover bolts were improperly tightened and there was a lack of proper inspection routines

People are priceless

Given that 400 million European passengers every year entrust themselves to the safety of the ship that they travel on, any accidents on board are serious threats to the safety of those passengers. About 6 per cent of fires on ro-ro passenger ships have resulted in loss of life or serious injury and every year. In December 2014, 11 people were killed and several were injured in a fire aboard the Norman Atlantic ro-ro passenger ship. Chances must not be taken when lives are at risk and when a vessel is at sea. To avoid such situation, it is suggested to have ultrasonic leak detector onboard.

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