What you need to know about preventing fires onboard containerships

A collaboration between Standard Club and David Townsend, Principle Fire Investigator at Andrew Moore & Associates Ltd, has resulted in a helpful loss prevention alert being released that focuses on container fires while offering some suggestions for dealing with and improving the situation.

According to Mr. Moore, there has been an increasing number of fires onboard containerships in recent years, some with disastrous consequences, not only for the shipowner and the crew on board but also for the environment and the shipping industry’s reputation.

He added that fire safety in container shipping has, for various reasons, and predominantly due to the sheer capacity, become compromised. Existing applicable codes have become effective only on the occasion that an incident is small and that all code criteria and prescribed procedures go to plan. The result is that there is little or no margin for error.

The fundamental criteria of fire safety include:
– Prevention
– Fire Resistance
– Compartmentation
– Alert
– Escape
– Fire Fighting
– Fire Fighting Access

The fundamental aims of fire risk assessment are to:
– Identify and remove or reduce ignition sources
– Mitigate the effects of any remaining ignition risk
– Remove or reduce all sources of combustible material
– Protect all remaining combustible material or risk

The remaining fire risk should then be As Low As Reasonably Practicable (ALARP) and the priority of actions needed to achieve this will be graded in terms of:
– Immediate: To address any item that is a clear and present danger such as blocked fire escape routes and fire door wedges.
– High priority: To address items that require urgent action and attention such as damaged fire door closing devices.
– Medium priority: To address items that cannot be fixed rapidly such as excessive fire door gaps.
– Low priority: To enable long-term solutions that require substantial funding or redesign.

The most effective and reliable fire protection is by passive means. This is achieved through construction, materials, fittings, and coatings that have a long ‘shelflife’, require little maintenance or monitoring, and no human activity in the event of fire. This would include, for example, fire resistance, compartmentation, and dampers.

Active fire protection methods are secondary and complementary but by no means inferior. This would include, for example, fire suppression systems or appliances and self-closing doors.

As explained, fire detection may be regarded as both passive and active since it is a permanent fixture but requires some human interaction or greater monitoring and maintenance.

Download the loss prevention guidance: Standard Club Container Fire Loss Prevention Guidance

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