West of England P&I Club says More can be done to prevent engine room fires

Photo credit: West of England P&I Club
Photo credit: West of England P&I Club

West of England P&I Club says that it is well known that fires on ships require a lot of effort to address. And they risk all those on board, presenting extreme danger to the vessel. Engine room fires are especially challenging to put out because of the potential confined nature of the scene and an abundance of fire triangle elements; namely heat, fuel and air.

Now, condition surveys conducted by the West of England P&I Club repeatedly present worrying examples of substandard fire safety in engine rooms which can easily be avoided by taking some simple steps.

The main sources of ignition in the engine room include hot exhaust manifolds of engines, boilers and indicator valves of the engines. When flammable liquids leak, splash, or are sprayed onto an exposed high temperature surface they can auto-ignite.

Up to 70% of all engine room fires are due to fuel leaks. SOLAS Ch II-2 Reg 4 para 2.2.6 mandates that surfaces with temperatures of 220°C and above must be properly insulated.

Exhaust gas casing, indicator valve shields and lagging degrade with time due to vibration, repeated heating and cooling down or disassembly and refitting during maintenance. The crew must ensure that high temperature surfaces are properly protected at all times when there is a risk of flammable oils being sprayed over the surface.

The importance of engine room cleanliness and a general fire safety culture cannot be overemphasised says West of England P&I Club.

In addition, dirty bilges, stained engine entablature and makeshift solutions, like leak collectors and plastic hoses may be set on fire by hot work such as welding or grinding. These will also provide another source of fuel to sustain and spread an engine room fire. Sufficient housekeeping, as well as a timely identification and elimination of oil leaks are crucial to prevent fires in engine rooms.

Other key items which need continuous attention of the crews and the managers are:
– Proper maintenance and use of fire doors. Frequently fire doors are found to be kept tied open, door self-closing devices are misadjusted and fail to close the door properly and door seals are torn or missing;
– Self-closing valves on oil tank level sight glasses are fixed in an open position and won’t close in case of fire;
– Fuel pipe quick closing valves not operational or wedged open preventing them from performing their function;
– Proper garbage management; oil soaked rags present a fire risk as they may be ignited by hot work in the vicinity, or may self-heat and ignite spontaneously;
– Oil soaked piping thermal insulation;
– Fire dampers and shutters inoperative / space served not marked / open-close position marking faded or unreadable;
– Fire escape routes and exits not marked conspicuously. Emergency Escape Breathing Devices in unserviceable condition or not sited in strategic positions.

West P&I Club concludes by saying that awareness of the risks associated with such malpractice and a well promoted and established safety culture will provide additional barriers against possible fire incidents.

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