The maritime industry treats fire protection systems as a necessary expenditure rather than a means by which to safeguard valuable crew and cargo
Although the value of the marine assets that fire systems protect is increasing rapidly, the competitiveness of the free market places great pressure on cost cutting. Often, cheap systems only minimally comply with the regulations and, in fact, there are very few qualified engineers who may be considered experts on the subject matter. This creates an environment in which a ‘safety first’ culture remains both un-pursued and unrewarded.
“This attitude feels in direct opposition to that in the aerospace sector, where if a fault occurs on an aircraft, that information is quickly and openly shared with airline operators, civil aviation authorities and engineering organizations. In shipping, unless a fatality occurs, it is left un-reported,” says Carl Hunter, CEO & MD of Coltraco Ultrasonics. With multiple ships sailing with partially-filled, over-filled or empty cylinders and many unshared instances of accidental discharges or slow seepages there is real cause for concern – and impetus to change.
In terms of ships’ extinguishing systems there exist two broad categories: sprinkler systems and gas systems (CO2). While the former can suffer leakage but the latter can cause catastrophic effect given the high physical pressures. An average ship’s CO2 & marine CO2 systemscomprises between 200 and 600 cylinders each containing 45KG of CO2 under high 720 psi/ 49 bar pressure. One of the highest probabilities of discharge occurs during their maintenance. Some marine service companies estimate that 20% of a ships CO2 cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents at some point in their lifetime.
This makes high quality servicing particularly important, which requires not just a company that is properly resourced (rather than simply the lowest bidder) but also an appropriate amount of time. In many cases, marine servicing contractors often have to get to the ship using a launch and only have access to the vessel for about four hours. “If using the historical method of servicing the vessel’s fire system, the service crews would shut down the ship’s CO2 & marine CO2 systems, dismantle it and weigh each cylinder. This takes about 40 minutes to dismantle, weigh, record and re-install, meaning that it would take 400 man-hours to achieve on a 600 cylinder marine installation – completely impossible in a four hour visit,” Hunter informs.
Coltraco offer Portalevel brand liquid level indicators and Portascanner (which uses ultrasound to test the integrity of confined spaces and can detect leak sites as small as 0.06mm) and Portagauge (which uses ultrasound to test the internal and external corrosion on pipework and cylinder wall thickness to an accuracy of +/-0.1mm). “We can monitor these 24/7 with the fixed, data-logging and autonomous monitoring system, Permalevel Multiplex & Permalevel Single Point,” says Hunter. “Signals from these
fixed monitoring sites can be monitored centrally on the bridge and in the ship’s technical office concurrently. We see a day when products and systems will be designed that will monitor gas vapour above the liquid level and inert gases too.”