Changing the game in container ship fire safety: Fire in the stack
Container fires on board very large container ships have been sufficiently frequent for the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) to call for a review of the firefighting equipment on board existing vessels.
While the ultra-large container ship may bring welcome economies of scale, fire-fighting capabilities on board have not kept pace with the increasing vessel sizes. This creates a serious risk for crew, as well as for cargo owners, shipowners and insurers. Due to vessel size, only a small number of ports can provide such vessels with safe refuge.
Following a rise in fires on large container ships in 2018-2019, IUMI Policy Forum Chair Helle Hammer described firefighting capabilities onboard container ships today as “deficient”. She called for collaboration, encouraging the IMO to strengthen fire protection in cargo areas, amend SOLAS by including active/passive fire protection on new container ships and consider addressing firefighting equipment on existing container vessels.
These sentiments are surely welcome but, as the combustion of mis-declared lithium batteries on board a 10,000 TEU ship in transit between Malaysia and India showed in January, this is an issue that demands direct action rather than a call to action.
The above case could easily have developed into a much more serious incident, as the fire broke out in a container below deck and was seemingly suppressed by the vessels CO2 system. Had the cargo been stowed above deck, however, the blaze would have had to be dealt with on an individual container basis. As recent fires have demonstrated, the higher up the stack the container is, the harder it is for crew to extinguish.