Losses up but fire safety shows improvements

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche

15 August 2016


Attention to matters of safety and security on ships has probably never been as high as it is in the modern era so it is a little disappointing that for 2015 the downward trend in casualties was reversed. After reaching an all time low in 2014 for total losses, 2015 figures produced by the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) in its annual report show notable increases in losses of container vessels, bulkers and tankers. On a brighter note, passenger and non-cargo categories showed a significant reduction in total loss frequency in 2015. What is interesting about the figures is that the reasons for losses show significant spikes in total losses caused by heavy weather and grounding. Between them these two categories account for 71% of all total losses, with fires and explosions, machinery failure, hull failure, collisions and miscellaneous reasons accounting for the balance. The report carries little in the way of reasons for individual incidents but it can be assumed that heavy weather may well include those incidents in which liquefaction of cargo is actually the main reason. Groundings too may be caused by heavy weather although factors such as errors in navigation are likely to feature as well. The statistics also only cover total loss incidents so they do not necessarily represent a true picture of the overall casualty situation. If there are any assumptions that can be made it is that the activity and profitability of different sectors shows some correlation. Specialist vessels such as offshore ships have been badly affected by the oil price collapse and many have been laid up as consequence thus reducing the risk element. For passenger vessels where the market is much more buoyant, no cruise ships were lost and the number of incidents involving Asian domestic ferries was also much reduced. The upward trend occurred in all cargo ship sectors where owners are struggling financially. While it would be wrong to consider that deliberate acts were involved, it is an accepted fact that casualties do increase when income is tight. Lack of funds for essential maintenance and pushing ships too hard to make the most of earning opportunities can mean that safety is sometime compromised. Losses due to fires and explosions actually dropped in 2015 but this is an area where there is great concern as incidents other than total losses are actually increasing – especially on ro-ro carriers. In June this year DNV GL issued a report on the matter of Fires on ro-ro decks” specifically to address concerns. DNV GL’s report examined fires within ro-ro spaces on ro-pax vessels, vehicle carriers and general ro-ro cargo vessels and identified 35 such fires between 2005 and 2016. A previous DNV GL paper on ro-ro fires, published in 2005, had counted 25 fires between 1990 and 2003. The DNV GL report shows that 18 of the incidents recorded between 2005 and 2016 happened on ro-pax vessels. In the same time frame, nine fires were reported on pure car carriers (PCC) and pure car and truck carriers (PCTC) and eight were reported on cargo ro-ro vessels. “In all cases, the fires were caused by the cargo (cars, trucks etc.) or the power connection between the reefer unit and vessel,” explained Anders Tosseviken, Principal Approval Engineer Fire Safety & Life-Saving at DNV GL – Maritime. To improve fire safety in daily operations, Tosseviken recommends operators should have a clear policy on what cargo and operations they accept in ro-ro spaces. Cargo should be screened, and old and towed second-hand vehicles in particular should be carefully checked before being allowed on board. A policy on reefer units also needs to be available, and these units should, if possible, be placed in dedicated areas such as weather decks, and monitored by CCTV. Additionally, the access to ro-ro spaces, including open deck spaces, should be restricted during voyages. Comprehensive crew training and clearly defined procedures for reacting to fire incidents are also necessary to ensure that personnel are able to release fixed fire-extinguishing systems as quickly as possible. Realistic training on the use of the fixed fire extinguishing system should be implemented with company-defined goals for release times (for instance three minutes for deluge systems and 15 minutes for CO2 systems). Fire safety policies should also include a plan on how to handle vehicles which use alternative fuels. DNV GL also offers the voluntary class notation F-AMC, whereby owners can demonstrate that they have enhanced the reliability of their fixed fire-extinguishing systems, improved the fire detection and CCTV systems, have additional firefighters’ outfits available and better UHF/VHF coverage. Advice is important but learning the skill of fighting fires has just been given a new dimension when at the end of June, the Delgado Fire and Industrial School in New Orleans combined Transas and XVR simulation technology. Delgado claims to be the first training centre anywhere to deploy XVR Incident Command simulation solutions in conjunction with their extensive suite of Transas full mission, part task and classroom marine simulators. Transas and XVR Simulation announced a strategic co-operation at the beginning of this year and this is the first major joint project deployment by the two organisations. No doubt fire and safety in general will feature strongly at SMM this year particularly as some new measures are due to take effect in the coming years. In November 2012, the IMO set out a number of measures designed to improve fire safety at sea. Improvements include the mandatory provision of specific types of handheld two-way radios for fire-fighting operations: SOLAS Chapter II-2, Regulation 10.10.4. This means ships must carry radios that are explosion-proof or are intrinsically safe. Vessels constructed on or after 1 July 2014 must already carry these radios, but for ships constructed before 2014, compliance becomes mandatory on 1 July 2018. One product that meets the rules is the new McMurdo SmartFind R8F which offers all the features an emergency team needs in a radio, from enhanced grip and large tactile buttons for easy and fast operation in an emergency situation, to a powerful in-built loud speaker and UHF for optimised indoor use. Justine Heeley, Managing Director at McMurdo UK, says, “As the 2018 deadline looms for the mandated SOLAS regulations, we understand that owners and operators are looking for a reliable and hardwearing radio that emergency teams can rely on. With the new SmartFind R8F, McMurdo provides the right solution thanks to our GMDSS heritage”. Fire safety was also on the agenda at MSC 96 earlier this year when the IMO adopted amendments to chapter 8 of the FSS Code concerning sprinkler systems. Resolution MSC.403(96) entering into force on 1 January 2020 will require special attention to be paid to the specification of water quality provided by the system manufacturer to prevent internal corrosion of sprinklers and clogging or blockage arising from products of corrosion or scale-forming minerals. This is an issue that dates back to MSC94 when the Bahamas delegate reported that there had been several incidents of sprinkler systems failing inspections because of corrosion in the pipes of the system. An entry into force date of I January 2020 was agreed at the same meeting for the even older matter of lifeboat launching. Amendments to SOLAS Chapter III were adopted as resolution MSC.404(96) to mandate that the thorough examination, operational testing, overhaul required maintenance and repair of equipment specified within the regulation shall be carried out on/after 1 January 2020 in accordance with the specifications contained in new resolution MSC.402(96). On the subject of long standing issues, it is now ten years since SOLAS regulations requiring every crew member onboard vessels in most categories to have access to immersion suits came into effect. In the intervening period there have been numerous issues including inspection campaigns by PSC and reports of fake suits being on the market. Those are all issues that have subsided and are now probably forgotten as are the suits themselves on many ships. Immersion suits that were bought in 2006 will be ten years old in 2016. According to the MSC.1114 guidelines on equipment servicing, this milestone will trigger a requirement for more frequent service inspections. For most flag states that means that immersion suits must now be serviced annually instead of every three years. Safety specialist Viking has raised this point saying that the passage of ten years since the implementation of the SOLAS regulations leaves shipowners and operators with a choice. They can keep the suits as they are, but switch to annual servicing; they can buy new suits and improve quality and reduce service requirements; or they can enter into an exchange agreement, leaving the hassle of time management to a third party. Not all of the original suppliers of suits will still be in existence so it may be a good time to revisit the matter and consider the options as outlined. If ship operators choose to take the opportunity to purchase new suits, they will also reset the service schedules and so would only have to service their immersion suits every three years. Time savings would thus clearly be a significant advantage of this approach.