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, this is all the time.

Protecting the merchant fleet

Research coordinated by IMO has indicated that between 30% and 50% of all fires on merchant ships originate in the engine room and 70% of those fires are caused by oil leaks from pressurised systems. There are generally two types of engine room fires: oil or electric. Engine room fires are one of the most common fires on ships due to the running machinery, and sources of fuel and ignition within them. Oil fires are the most serious. Mechanical issues such as fracture, fatigue failure and also under-tightened components or seals may result in catastrophic occurrences.  Furthermore, it was noted, that high pressure fuel delivery pipes should be covered with jackets capable of containing leaks in case of pipe failure. There is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and vessel.

Complying with fire safety regulations does not guarantee safety.

The UK P&I Club have suggested that extended periods of time on board a ship without a fire incident can lead to complacency and therefore a failure of prioritizing prevention methods and fire incident practices.  It is impossible to prepare for all eventualities on a vessel, and it is often easier to influence the prompt detection of fires and their effective extinguishment, and these factors therefore play a key role in minimising fire damage aboard vessels. Yet, one of the reasons why accidents are still happening and fire safety is still a major issue in the shipping industry is the lack of development in firefighting equipment available on board container ships.

Contain the risk of fire

Vice Chairman’s of the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) stated that to global shipping, major fires on container ships are among the worst hazards. Part of the problem is as container ship sizes have increased, the firefighting equipment on board has not experienced the same development. In their 2015 annual report, the USCG identified that the greatest deficiency onboard ships was its firefighting appliances.  An example of where the risk has become a danger is the CCNI Arauco. On the CCNI Aruco, 300 firefighters were needed after an unsuccessful seal and flood of the vessels hold with CO2. The hatch had to be flooded and then foam was used to bring the fire under control. The main difficulty comes from the inadequate equipment which the crew had to tackle the fire and as a result there has been calls for the technology to change.

Case study: Engine Room Fire 2009

  • 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.

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