Several industry bodies call on ro-ro vessel owners to reduce fire hazards as such vessels are twice as likely to catch fire as other ships and vehicle-deck fires are notoriously difficult to contain and put out.
The International Union of Marine Insurers recently published a white paper on this matter, so did class society DNV GL. Following in their footsteps, North P&I Club has published a 10-page briefing, which is free to download from the club’s website, and which explains the risks of ro-ro and car carrier fires in detail. It also covers recommends issues like training, maintenance, vigilance, reaction and procedures. You can read more about these papers and about issues with fire safety in our brand new March 2017 print edition.
Additionally, The Marine Professional spoke to Carl Hunter, CEO of monitoring equipment manufacturer Coltraco, about fire safety:
Are engine rooms onboard ships laid out in such a manner that they promote fire safety or does the shipping industry need to pay more attention to placing of fire fighting equipment when designing ships?
The engine rooms are laid out in a natural engineering flow related to the propulsion and power generating needs of the vessel and coupled to its steering gear. It is not the siting of the fixed fire extinguishing (FFE) systems which are the issue but the understanding of them by the crew, and their proper maintenance and inspection by crew and accredited service agents rather than the emphasis being on their certification.
Do OEMs need to be more involved in shipping crew training of fire safety equipment?
No, a crew is properly trained in the use of the FFE and the life saving equipment on any vessel as a basic qualification to serve at sea. There are of course questions as to the integrity of this training. The wider issue though relates to the inspection and maintenance of the FFE systems.
Has the increased use of sensors onboard ships led to a reduction of fire related incidents?
To a degree, but a ship still sails without the monitoring of the contents of its FFE gaseous systems. Because these are stored under pressure they are subject to risk of leakage or accidental discharge, as would any other pressurised system. But the key at sea is that the system is the only pressurised system left unmonitored a ship at sea. It could be easily remedied and if combined with an emphasis on full routine and periodic maintenance and inspection rather than certification being the key priority, then fire systems would rapidly lose their current prime position as the no 1 cause for port state control detaining ships.
What are the benefits of retrofitting modern fire fighting equipment onboard older vessels?
Unless the fire system has corroded or is beyond economic repair, there should be no need at all to do this. The key is to properly inspect and maintain what they have, to understand it sufficiently well to inspect and maintain it, as any good marine engineer should and to remember that a ship at sea is its own fire rescue service, operating in a self-contained manner and that no amount of certification-driven inspection will compensate for basic engineering and scientific principles being applied to something that is the only thing that separates a fire event from a catastrophic loss of life, vessel and cargo.