Self-igniting charcoal was cause of two containership fires, investigation finds

Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) has called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to update its regulations related to the carriage of charcoal cargoes in containers, after the BSU’s investigation into fires on board two containerships, MSC Katrina (in November 2015) and Ludwigshafen Express (in February 2016). Self-ignition of charcoal cargoes, loaded in bulk in containers originating from Borneo, Indonesia and destined for the same consignee in France, was found to be the cause of both fires.

On November 20th 2015 containers containing charcoal caught fire on board the MSC Katrina when the vessel was in the Elbe estuary. The fire was extinguished with no damage to the vessel and only minimal damage to the containers. Then on February 21st 2016 Ludwigshafen Express suffered a fire while underway in the Red Sea. The crew extinguished the fire and there was no damage to the vessel.

The BSU has recommended that Germany’s Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure call on committees of the IMO to amend regulations of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. Currently charcoal is not classified as a class 4.2 dangerous good. Only charcoal of animal or plant origin is classified as a self-heating class 4.2 substance.

The BSU further recommended that the IMO consider updating stowage requirements to ensure that any type of self-heating substance was always transported on deck with sufficient accessibility. In the case of MSC Katrina the container affected by the fire could not be reached by ladder due to the stowage height. Specialist firefighters had to abseil down from the uppermost container of the stack concerned.

In the case of Ludwigshafen Express it was easy for the crew to reach the first container affected because its slot was on the hatch cover. The second container was also easy to reach.

A similar recommendation on updating stowage requirements was made to Mediterranean Shipping Company, operator of MSC Katrina, regarding the updating of cargo stowage instructions so that self-heating cargo loaded in containers was always transported on deck with sufficient accessibility.

Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), the contracting carrier of the Ludwigshafen Express, was recommended to forward information on cargo to partners within the slot charter agreement, even if the cargo does not constitute dangerous goods, but poses a heightened risk.

OOCL co-operated with Hapag-Lloyd as contracting carrier in a slot charter agreement within the framework of an alliance. “Accordingly, OOCL was in possession of the necessary cargo documents and cargo information. Hapag-Lloyd acted as actual carrier but was not aware of the cargo, even though BSU believes charcoal would have necessitated this, given its inherent risk”, the investigation found. During the investigation, a Hapag-Lloyd representative stated that the containers containing the charcoal on Ludwigshafen Express would not have been transported, because charcoal from Indonesia was on the company’s exclusion list.

The investigation found details of five other fires between 2011 and 2015 (three of them in 2015) involving charcoal cargo, none of them classified as dangerous goods.

https://www.bsu-bund.de/SharedDocs/pdf/EN/Investigation_Report/2018/Investigation_Reports_455_15_und58_16.pdf?__blob=publicationFile&v=1