Call to segregate boxships into fire compartments

Call to segregate boxships into fire compartments

Amid a severe escalation of boxship fire incidents, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) has called for an urgent improvement to onboard firefighting systems.

At a recent conference in Arendal, Norway, organised by marine insurer and P&I club, Gard, and attended by IMO, flag states, shipowners, salvors, class, and insurers, IUMI strengthened its position on this global issue.

Helle Hammer, chair of IUMI’s policy forum, stated in a release: “Fire-fighting capabilities onboard containerships are deficient and we need to see more headway to improve the safety of the crew, the environment, the cargo and the ships themselves. Mis and non-declaration of cargo has serious safety implications and is the root cause behind these tragic incidents. There is agreement among experts that the current means of controlling a fire in the cargo hold are of little effect. The safety objectives set out in SOLAS do not seem to be met, and in light of the various recent casualties the time for action is now.”

During the IMO’s 101st Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting in June 2019, IUMI raised its concerns and received support from various quarters, including IACS. Now, in partnership with the German flag state, IUMI is calling for additional support from flag administrations and other stakeholders to bring this issue to IMO’s agenda in 2020.

In 2017 IUMI published a position paper to raise a variety of concerns including inadequate fire detection and onboard firefighting systems both on deck and under deck; and the need to revise SOLAS.

“Our position paper recommends that firefighting systems should be arranged to segregate the ship into fire compartments where the fire can be isolated to prevent it from spreading. Onboard systems could then cool the containers and allow them to burn out in a controlled manner. Fixed monitors to adequately attack the fire and improved fire detection system are further measures proposed to allow for an appropriate response mechanism. Better prevention measures must also address the concerning rise in cargo misdeclaration. We are encouraged to see larger carriers already beginning to crack down on this problem,” said Hammer.

This year has been especially bad for containership fires with more than one major incident a month.

“The sad reality is that we can no longer sit idle. Containerships are increasing in size and complexity and this will only exacerbate the problem. This is an issue that affects the entire maritime industry and IUMI is calling for all stakeholders to work together and encourage IMO to strengthen fire protection in the cargo area of container vessels; amend SOLAS by explicitly including active and/or passive fire protection on board new container vessels; and consider the need to address the firefighting equipment of existing container vessels,” said Hammer.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Andrew Craig-Bennett
    October 23, 2019 at 6:40 pm

    A very good point. It’s quite clear that a modern boxboat really doesn’t have the capacity to fight a cargo fire effectively.

    A through review should indeed be undertaken but I’d hope that it will include stability considerations as well as bulkhead, hatch cover and longitudinal strength issues and attention to the ability of the bilge pumping systems to cope with debris.

    We thought that CO2 systems would be enough; it is clear that they are.

    And perhaps I may be allowed to trot out the suggestion that dangerous cargo should NOT attract a higher freight rate, despite the higher handling costs?