There are 55,000 ships in the world carrying 95% of all commodities and goods. 25% of these are Tankers, Chemical Carriers & Product Tankers. 40% of these are Bulk Carriers and General Cargo ships. These have a need for vessel integrity and vessel fire safety.

Currently it is well known that the shipping industry has taken a big hit in certain areas. The amount of “urgent” supply requests that increase during one of shipping’s cyclical down-turns is because it is during these times when owners risk vessel detention by not placing safety critical equipment on-board. There are two key aspects to investigate in more detail because they are oft overlooked: the ungoverned spaces of fire safety and watertight integrity. These two areas will be examined through the regulations and technologies used to solve these issues. Looking at the UK as leaders in the shipping industry worldwide with a case study focus on a British designer and manufacturer who is sailing through the tough times.


Engine room fires are often reported but there are many more instances where problems with the fire system may not reach the public eye. In a ship’s fire extinguishing system, there may be 600 x 45kg/100lb cylinders of CO2. The CO2 is a highly effective liquefied gaseous extinguishant designed to displace oxygen and suppress a fire. But they are under high pressure, often more than 50 Bar, and they can leak or accidentally discharge. Common knowledge suggests 20% of marine CO2 cylinders leak. If personnel are around when they discharge fatalities can occur. To inspects cylinder contents, the system is turned off, the cylinders dismantled, weighed and re-installed by certified personnel, which the crew are not. 30 years ago, marine servicing companies used radioactive-sourced level indicators, but these were damaging to health and subject to IATA transportation, licensing and storage requirements. The first handheld liquid level indicator to use ultrasonic technology provided a quick, accurate and safe means for anyone trained - from a marine servicing company, to chief engineer or crew member - to test the cylinder contents. This Portalevel® was designed and manufactured by Coltraco Ultrasonics who have since developed the technology to the 8th generation Portalevel® MAX Marine which can test all common clean agents.


A second key problem area for vessels is the watertight integrity: for example, 33% of cargo claims are due to leaking hatch-covers. Not only hatch-covers suffer seal integrity issues, but also the multiple cable transit areas, cable penetrations between bulkheads or watertight compartment doors. Historically the industry has used high pressure water hoses or chalk compression testing to test the seals.  These methods are messy, inaccurate, time-consuming and the environmental implications of water run-off is costly. They can also only be conducted when the ship is in port or when the cargo holds are empty.  Portascanner™ Watertight was designed by Coltraco Ultrasonics to meet the need for a clean, simple, highly accurate means to achieve watertight integrity in port, with or without cargo in the hold. It is handheld, intuitive to use, with audible and visual displays showing the most mathematically accurate results of its type worldwide.


Shipping professionals understand that any marine structure “turns and bends” as it sails, that its extent is affected by its sea, weather and its load states and that as a structure ages its integrity changes and worsens. Today it is possible to continuously monitoring the state of hatch-covers whilst at sea thanks to Coltraco who are developing the first fixed and semi-fixed watertight integrity monitoring systems with remote diagnostics and alarm relay.  Just as the vessel is in a dynamic state, so too a pressurised fire extinguishing gas is effected by temperature and that its cylinder holding structure and its associated pipework corrodes over time. Regular and frequent inspections, above and beyond the regulatory inspections can aide condition monitoring and preventative maintenance. Over 20% of the world’s commercial ships, over 20 leading Navies and many oil and gas platforms and rigs recognise these issues and use Portalevel™ MAX Marine and/or Portascanner™ Watertight as part of their safety management systems. It is the responsibility of the Master to ensure that the vessel is watertight and the fire systems in working order, but it is the responsibility of the Owner or Operator to ensure that the Master can achieve this.


These two safety solutions are at the heart of the crew’s ability to comply with regulations. The IMO regulates for the safe operations of ships. The Flag States enforce these. The Classification Societies & PSC inspect these, but it is for the Ship Owners & operators to implement this. Suppliers provide the solutions. Enabling ship owners and operators to access marine technologies to deliver a safely-operated ship and prevent its detention by Port State Control (PSC) Inspection Agencies for non-compliance, is the Safeship® mission from Coltraco Ultrasonics.

For example, IMO SOLAS FSS Ch.5 every ship “must have the means for the crew to check the contents of the CO2 system”. The crew are not qualified to turn off and dismantle a CO2 system to weigh the cylinders so Portalevel™ MAX Marine solves the issue because they can check each cylinder in 30 seconds without disturbing it.


“Constant monitoring”. “Autonomous shipping”. “Unmanned vessels”. These are the terms of the moment, and for good reason. Data and safety are priceless, so new solutions are being implemented to secure these. In the ungoverned spaces of fire safety and watertight integrity, there will soon be innovative new systems providing continuous monitoring and remote diagnostics. At the vanguard of this, Coltraco have just launched the world’s first instrument to enable ships to monitor the compartment door “open/closed” access status when they enter the ship’s CO2 room. This is known as Portascanner™ 14520 and is a dual-function unit that can also permanently monitor the “Protected Space” of the ship’s compartment to ensure that it will “hold” the CO2 or NOVEC™1230, should it be discharged into it. Coltraco are dedicated to developing semi-fixed systems with the Portascanner™ Watertight Compartment Door and Portascanner™ Multiple Cable Transit Area next year, so that shipping companies can test these structures at sea over varying load and weather states enabling them to calculate leak site aperture.


Certain leading British OEMs commit to marketing and business development via exhibitions, speaking at conferences, writing articles, preparing interviews with trade press and a few even have technical papers published by the likes of the Royal Institute of Naval Architects among other. At a more in depth level, exists the opportunity to engage with industry associations, councils and committees which can, if the arguments are captivating for their value and truth, lead to government and regulation level communications. The dizzying heights of the IMO and All Party Parliamentary Groups are gained, not through commercially-led influence, but through care for the customer, for the vessel and the crew.

It is also through leading by example of providing the scientific and mathematical principles behind the concepts. Coltraco works with leading universities such as Durham University who awarded their CEO an Honorary Doctorate for his contribution to Physics and student development. Coltraco is a unique example of a British OEM who strives to engage all the elements described above to achieve its Safeship® mission.

Whilst aiming to be a sustainable and profitable company, at the leading technological edge of its core capabilities, Coltraco’s CEO see a day “when we will break-out of ultrasound and acoustic resonance and supplement these in technologies from radar, light and magnetism. I would like to see us become the “Research & Development hub” or “R&D house of choice” for Ship Owners and Vessel Operators.

There exists so much “ungoverned space” in shipping, so many unnecessary losses of seafarers, vessels and cargoes too. Shipping may be very proud of its safety record, but it should do more itself rather than wait for the regulators to impose themselves upon it.” Rounding off this examination into the ungoverned space in shipping, Coltraco’s CEO states: “We remain the global centre of shipping and I wish us to lead that to a new future of Safe Shipping to

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