IUMI says Time to take action on container ship fires

IUMI speaks out about container ship fires
IUMI speaks out about container ship fires

The shipping industry has witnessed many fire incidents on container ships this year, some of which have resulted in fatalities and others in significant economic losses. At a recent conference, IUMI took the chance to alert and feedback on the situation and call the shipping industry to improve its onboard firefighting systems and seafarers’ training.

Gard P&I Club organised a conference in Arendal, Norway on 17-18 October 2019. The event attracted many shipping stakeholders, including IMO, flags states, shipowners and insurers. Their aim? To push for more discussions on preventing and mitigating such fires.

Following the conference, Christen Guddal, Chief Claims Officer at Gard, said, “In recent times, serious cargo-related fires on board container ships have occurred at the rate of about one a month. The increased size and cargo capacity of container ships have a real impact on the potential severity of such incidents.”

Cargo fires are not only an environmental concern, they also cause large losses across liability, property and loss of income covers, and challenge ship operators leading to severe business disruption and reputational damage.

Taking advantage of the opportunity of key players coming together, IUMI strengthened its resolve on this alarming issue and its rapid escalation, as fire on cargoes requires a review and quick response to prevent further incidents.

Speaking at the conference, Helle Hammer, Chair of IUMI’s Policy Forum, said, “Fire-fighting capabilities onboard container ships are deficient and we need to see more headway to improve the safety of the crew, the environment, the cargo and the ships themselves.”

Ms Hammer added that the issue of mis-declaration or non-declaration of cargo seriously affects the safety implications of a vessel and can result in incidents. Hapag Lloyd recently announced a penalty of USD 15,000 per container for those who fail to correctly declare hazardous cargoes prior to their shipment.

As a consequence, IUMI is recommending IMO to consider:
1. strengthening fire protection in the cargo area of container vessels;
2. amending SOLAS by explicitly including active and/or passive fire protection on board new container vessels;
3. the need to address the firefighting equipment of existing container vessels.

During the conference, Gard’s Guddal added that their mission is to enable sustainable maritime development together with our Members, clients and other stakeholders in the industry, bringing experts together to share knowledge and discuss possible solutions.

Today’s means of controlling a fire in the cargo hold seem inefficient, whereas the safety objectives set out in SOLAS do not seem to be met, with Ms Hammer highlighting that the shipping industry should act now to prevent additional, fatal incidents.

Ms Hammer shared her concerns on the fact that the shipping industry can not overlook the problem, as container ships are becoming bigger and more complex than ever, meaning that this will only worsen the problem.

In addition, in 2017, IUMI launched a position paper providing recommendations on improving firefighting systems onboard vessels. As such, IUMI’s proposals included:
1. Responsible authorities, class and relevant industry stakeholders should engage in discussions on how to further improve the fire detection, protection and firefighting capabilities on board container vessels.
2. Implementation of new and improved measures to fight fires on container vessels will not only protect the vessel and the cargo, but also the lives and wellbeing of the crew.

During the launch of their position paper, Ms Hammer, said, “We believe the mode of firefighting set out in SOLAS is not suitable for a modern container ship…We suggest creating individual fire compartments below deck to prevent fire from spreading. These compartments would be fitted with fixed Co2 and water-based firefighting systems.”

During her speech, Ms Hammer also referred to recent fire incidents on container ships, including Yantian Express, in which the fire began from one container before spreading to all the container onboard the vessel; APL Vancouver where the fire similarly broke out in one of its cargo holds; Grande America, E.R. Kobe and KMTC Hong Kong.

Regarding container ship fires, the three basic steps for a better preparation are:
a. Look for the sources of ignition;
b. Be prepared for engine room fires;
c. Ensuring proper maintenance and inspection

In addition, IUMI, supported by the German flag state, calls for additional club administrations on further support with the aim of bringing the fire issue on IMO’s agenda in 2020.

In its recently-launched position paper regarding cargo theft, IUMI 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. Then, onboard systems will be able to coll the containers, still allowing them to burn out in a controlled manner.

IUMI has also proposed fixed monitors to adequately attack the fire and improved fire detection system are further measures proposed to allow for an appropriate response mechanism.

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