After reviewing numerous accidents that have occurred onboard container ships recently, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) published a position paper that describes why container ships need better firefighting systems. The concern is that the existing firefighting capabilities on these vessels are insufficient to fight potential threats.
Current regulations were developed not for container ships, but for general cargo vessels in which freight is stored openly. Therefore, the current firefighting provisions are not designed to address the firefighting requirements of container ships.
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Container Ships in Remote Locations
Oftentimes, hours or even days can go by in a remote location on the water before help can arrive for a container ship and its crew who have experienced a serious fire. Generally speaking, sea-going boats carry the required equipment to fight an onboard fire effectively. Until these boats make it to the location of the container ship, however, the ship’s crew must depend on any onboard resources to fight flames. For instance, due to the nature of how these fires can spread, it can take weeks to bring such a fire under control if adequate resources are not available immediately.
Cargo Ships vs. Container Ships and Fire Prevention
An amendment to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) introduced measures to increase firefighting effectiveness at sea. However, the IUMI insists that more must be done to address the firefighting needs of container ships.
These SOLAS-specified firefighting systems are sometimes not designed to effectively enable the detection of emerging fires in a container ship, according to IUMI. In order to detect a fire aboard a vessel, some of the air contained within the hold is often withdrawn and checked by a photoelectric cell on the bridge for air that contains smoke particles. If it does, indeed, contain smoke particles, an alarm is triggered. For this alarm to go off, the entire hold must be filled with smoke up to level of the hatch cover. On container vessels, fires will have spread significantly by this point, making this system flawed for effective fire detection in container ships.
In addition, spraying CO2 into the hatch may not be effective for a number of reasons:
- In a close container situation, CO2 cannot infiltrate the container wall in order to be applied directly to the burning cargo.
- CO2 will lose its effectiveness completely if the oxygen level of the cargo or in the container is high.
Eventually, as a fire aboard a container vessel will make it to the deck of the ship. The fire that spreads to the deck on a container ship can have more disastrous consequences than a fire on a general cargo vessel. With a container vessel, no natural fire compartments exist on the deck. Due to insufficient equipment on these vessels, it becomes almost impossible to cool the deck adequately with the application of water.
The IUMI also states that detecting a fire on deck is not currently possible through adequately verifiable means, but rather through chance. SOLAS does not specify the inclusion of fire detectors on deck. It is only when a detectable quantity of smoke is produced by fire, the flame itself is discernible, or when the fire produces sounds that cancel out the natural noises of the ship that such a fire may be discovered. For these reasons alone, it can be seen why container ships need better firefighting systems.
Cargo is stored differently on a container ship as opposed to a cargo vessel. Thus, the prescriptions outlined by SOLAS for addressing fires – originally developed for cargo vessel fires – do not apply for container ship fires.
Proposed Firefighting Enhancements for Container Ships
After reviewing the various incidents that have occurred involving fires on container ships in recent years, the IUMI supports a proposal offered by the German Insurance Association (GDV). The GDV’s proposal involves the creation of individual fire compartments below deck to inhibit a fire from spreading. Each compartment would be equipped with fixed water-based and CO2 firefighting systems. In addition to the installation of these systems, the GDV also recommends installing boundary structures above deck, aligned with water-cooled bulkheads below, and consisting of built-in fixed firefighting systems.
In order to cool a vessel properly, water-based firefighting systems must be equipped to reach areas such as the tank deck, bulkheads, hold walls, the deck, hatch covers, and the cargo.
Additionally, firefighting systems that are water-based, must function independently of the CO2 firefighting system.
According to the GDV, water curtains must be available to defend against the effects of heat and flames that threaten a ship’s superstructures. This is vitally important due to the fact that superstructures consist of a boundary protection for the crew.
It is also necessary to install monitors on the ship’s superstructures in order to have the capability to attack fires from a safe distance. The protection of lifeboats and other lifesaving equipment is also vital and must be done by providing water curtains for these locations.
Contact an Experienced Houston Maritime Accident Lawyer
If you have suffered an injury in a maritime accident, you may be facing significant hardship at the moment due to not only your injury, but also mounting medical costs. Our maritime accident attorneys at The Krist Law Firm, P.C. are able to guide you through the necessary legal steps to obtain any compensation you are owed.
Contact us today to set up a free consultation, or call us at (281) 283-8500.