According to TT Club, container fires are a far more regular occurrence than most people would realise. Statistics show there is a major container cargo fire at sea roughly every 60 days. So, tackling fires and subsequent investigations are complex and vitally important activities.
With increasing container ships size increases the risk of a fire incident increases too. Despite some regulatory and technical advances, the fact is that the ability to respond to a cargo-related fire at sea has not progressed as needed in recent times.
To tackle a fire in a hold, TT Club notes a CO2 system will be installed if the ship is carrying dangerous goods. The gas released from a CO2 system can displace the oxygen in the hold and smother the fire. However, for CO2 to be effective, the hold must be closed to retain the gas and prevent oxygen ingress.
If an incident has taken place in a container stowed on deck, water will be the only option available . Nevertheless, it is unlikely to extinguish a fire inside a container in the short term.
In addition, crew members should seek expert advice. The expert must provided with as much information as possible, including the location of the fire, the extent and description of the incident and, as a minimum, a copy of the cargo manifest.
Moreover, according to TT Club, if the fire is in a hold, flooding of the hold with water may be considered. This will require flooding to above the level of the containers involved and brings many additional problems. One of the potential problems is that there may be more damage results from the water than may have occurred from the fire.
As for the fire investigation, after an explosion or fire has happened, an investigation into the cause will be required. Most investigations follow a basic format. The starting point is often witness or electronic evidence. This involve gathering accounts of the events from the crew, including ‘where, when and what’. Photographs or videos of the early stages of an event are sometimes available.
Detection systems can also provide valuable information, such as where the smoke or fire was first detected. If the detection system is a gas extraction system samples or residues can be obtained from the inside of the extraction pipe work.
Once the available witness evidence is collected, an examination of the physical evidence will be conducted. This could provide directional indicators of blast and or fire movement and intensity.
During the physical examination, samples will be taken for laboratory analysis, the results of which may identify the cause of the event. This, however, can be very complex, TT Club concludes.