The crew have a responsibility to implement the regulations via regular testing, which enabled through smart ultrasonic technology and IoT, should be done continuously to avoid negligence and unnecessary risk. Misunderstanding exists across parts of shipping industry regarding the application of a part of the 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. These periodic inspections are conducted annually or biennially, and only by an Accredited Service Agent i.e. an external Marine Servicing Company. The reason IMO requires crew to test for contents in-between these is that the “ship sails alone” and “there is no such thing as a small fire at sea”; it must act as its own emergency fire service, differing to a land based asset. In order to create a Safeship® the crew must be in full understanding of the status their safety systems at all times and not just at the times of the inspections – achieved by continuous monitoring.
Gaseous extinguishing systems must be able to actuate, or release their gas, in the event of a fire. Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of the vessel, and it is known that they leak, then a 5% loss of agent may mean that they would not fully extinguish the fire. These are pressurised systems, so the point of monthly checking for contents is to identify loss of contents through leakage or accidental discharge before they fall below their capacity to extinguish (technically described as: delivering their design concentration). Only having the annual inspection by accredited marine servicing companies is not enough – the crew must take responsibility for its own fire protection and inspecting the gaseous extinguishing systems. But what if there is leakage in between these monthly checks? With fewer, even lower-skilled crew and a greater dependence on autonomous machinery, the dependence on fire systems being checked from shore, let alone on the ship in person, will only become greater. Manual weighing is not only laborious, but also dangerous to the crew conducting the servicing. New technology allows ship owners and crews to help them both the spirit and letter of the regulation and thus know that their vessel is protected in the event of a fire.
Smart technology provides the crew and ship owners with ease of inspection and understanding their extinguishing systems. However, the crew will not be able to refill the gaseous extinguishing system, and instead must rely on notifying the marine servicing company when they arrive at a port, despite the fact that they may only be at the port for a very short amount of time. Due to time pressures, the risk of not being able to find a contractor in time to fill the cylinders in the event of leakage is one that could jeopardise the safety of the entire ship when it is time to set sail. Furthermore, it is well known that vessels are kept at the dock for a minimum amount of time, which reduces time for repairs and thus efficiency without compromise of safety is key. Continuously monitoring the cylinders with ultrasonic sensors that utilises IoT can avoid this, because the network contribution. Using IoT enables the advance notification of the crew and shore based services whilst at sea. Therefore, preparations to address the issues can be made prior to docking to ensure the issues are resolved given the minimum time they have. By having the ability to understand the contents’ level of their gaseous extinguishing systems whilst at sea, the crew are also able to comply and exceed the IMO SOLAS FSS and ISO 14520 regulations, whilst ensuring the Safeship®.