Fire on Board Ferries

Fires on board ferries can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo. There is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and infrastructure

Misunderstanding exists across parts of the ferry industry regarding the application of a part of the International Maritime Organisation, Safety of Life at Sea, Fire Safety Systems (IMO SOLAS FSS) Code; the need for crew to test the contents of their CO2, FM-200® & NOVEC™ 1230 Gaseous Extinguishing Systems in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification intervals.

IMO SOLAS & FSS Code Chapter - “Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the containers.”

The reason the IMO requires crew to test for contents in-between these is that the “ferries sails alone”; it must act as its own emergency fire service. 

A ferries’s gaseous extinguishing system typically comprises between 200 and 600 cylinders each containing 45KG of CO2 under high 720 psi/ 49 bar pressure. Some marine service companies estimate that 20% of a ferries CO2 cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents at some point in their lifetime. Yet although this poses high levels of risk to the service companies and the crew, because gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurised, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use and this is shown in the regulations that demand their upkeep.

Using an ultrasonic liquid level indicator is the only way that the crew can safely test their CO2 without disturbing them. If ferry companies implemented the IMO SOLAS FSS codes by testing safely and quickly (just 30-60 seconds per cylinder) by using liquid level indicators and marine servicing companies were able to do their work without allowing for time pressures, then marine safety would be far safer.

Any vessel with a Marine Gaseous Extinguishing system needs to consider 3 factors :

  • Unless compartmentation exists the gas will not be able to concentrate
  • Unless the contents exists in sufficient quantity design concentration will not occur
  • The pipework and flanges must be tested to be free of corrosion-generated particulates which block the nozzles and must be tested to be able to withstand the shock of gas discharge on actuation

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