Container vessels urgently need better regulation to enhance fire safety

Nick Haslam, Group Director of Shipping Services LOC, has written in the latest IUMI Eye that the current fire safety regulations on container vessels are “woefully inadequate”. An established fire could be virtually impossible to get under control because of a combination of factors; restricted access to the cargo stow where many of the fires have started and the sheer size and scale of an ultra large container vessel (ULCV), together with inadequate crew training and equipment, Haslam wrote.

Haslam noted that on a container ship relatively small quantities of hazardous chemicals packed in individual containers were perfectly compliant, with no additional fire or safety precautions required. “However, if taken in their entirety, adding up all the container contents, the total quantity of that hazardous chemical could be a very significant volume indeed”, warned Haslam, with the same volume, if carried on a bulk tanker or similar, being covered by totally different and much stricter safety requirements.

HasIam said that he had been involved in a series of recent operations on container ships and, given the volatility of some of the cargoes in close proximity, found it unsurprising that a fire could escalate out of hand so quickly. The potential issues were compounded by the incorrect or misdeclaration of cargoes. He said that it was difficult enough dealing with cargoes you knew about, without having to deal with those you did not know about.

He said that. when it came to ULCVs, the SOLAS regulation 11-2/10.1.2, which states that the firefighting requirements were to ‘supress and quickly extinguish a fire in the space or area of origin’ might demand the impossible.

With containers stacked 11 boxes high below deck and 9 boxes high above deck, with deck lashings and bridges up to tier 4, a seafarer’s or salvage team’s access to fire-fight was likely to be severely restricted, if not impossible.

Haslam observed that currently the crew on a container vessel were only required to complete standard fire-fighting training, and yet fires on a container ship involving hazardous chemicals could easily and quickly reach over 1000 degrees, hot enough to melt steel.