Call for Rethink on Container Ship Fires

NNCI Arauco
NNCI Arauco fire

Published Sep 20, 2016 7:54 PM by The Maritime Executive

Recent ship fires have caused the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) to call for a reevaluation of the fire-fighting equipment used on container ships.

The call comes just as the Wan Hai 307 container ship suffered a fire in Hong Kong on Monday. The ship’s crew were unable to extinguish the fire, and local salvage tugs were deployed to help.

Uwe-Peter Schieder, Vice Chairman of IUMI’s Loss Prevention Committee explains how he sees recent incidents:

“At sea, below-deck fires cannot be fought with water and so CO? is used instead to displace the oxygen and extinguish the fire. However, if the fire is burning within a container, the box will protect it from the CO? and so this method of fire-fighting is rarely successful. Currently there are no other methods of fighting a container ship fire below deck. Even on deck, the crew only have access to hoses and nozzles. They do not have sufficient monitors or foam and so cannot cool the vessel’s structure”.

IUMI is concerned that seafarers are being asked to tackle onboard fires with inadequate equipment. The Association highlights the incident on MSC Flaminia where three seafarers lost their lives. The vessel burned for almost six weeks, 70 percent of the cargo was destroyed and the ship was declared a Constructive Total Loss.

IUMI is well aware of the SOLAS regulations but is calling for further dialogue involving IMO, class, shipbuilders and shipping companies to further improve firefighting capabilities onboard container ships. 

Two recent container ship fires referenced by IUMI are:

NNCI Arauco - September 1, 2016: A fire broke out whilst alongside in Hamburg during welding operations and 300 firefighters were deployed. The hold was sealed and flooded with CO?, this was unsuccessful. Water was then used for flooding the hatch and stopped before stability problems occur. Finally, foam was used to bring the fire under control.

Maersk Karachi – May 13, 2016: A fire caused by welding operations needed more than 100 firefighters to control the blaze. Water monitors were needed to flood the hold to extinguish the fire.