Fire Incidences at Sea
Sun - August 27, 2017 2:41 pm     A+ | a-
Fires on board ships can be devastating, to crew, vessel and cargo. Fire safety standards on board cannot afford to slip. Part of this issue is to do with the maintenance of gaseous fire extinguishing installations which may be a result of the holes in the regulations. With the recent difficulties that the shipping industry is facing, Coltraco understand that need for practical cost efficient solutions to safety issues.  However, maintaining high standards of fire safety practice does not have to be expensive or time consuming, Coltraco strive to provide easy and long lasting solutions that are suitable to varying budgets. There is a call to respond to regulations with a rigorous attitude, to go above and beyond, to provide security of life and infrastructure. Installations must be maintained so that they can provide the protection that they are intended for. This is a call for awareness of the problem and action to be taken now.
Fire at sea: the proof is in the stats
At sea, fire poses one the of biggest threat to ships. Sailing alone and at sea throughout the year, and without the ability to call upon the emergency services as a land-based asset might. The danger is shown in the statistics. A study published by the Finnish Transport Safety Agency showed that almost 800 fires happened in European waters between 2004 – 2014, 10% of these were classed as serious. Further to this, circa 200 of these incidents required external support to deal with the fire. In some of these cases the fire suppression installations may not have been at their full capacity, which lead to the uncontrollable fires.
Devastating effects of fire & water ingress
A clear of example of where actuation has failed to provide safety to the vessel is MSC Flaminia. In July 2012, the container ship was exposed to an uncontrollable fire which tragically lead to three fatalities and two severely injured crew members, as well as dire damage to the ship structure and its cargo. In this example, the actuation of the CO2 system failed when it actuated without instruction in the engine room, although the discharge was intended for cargo hold 4, which turned off the auxiliary boiler and auxiliary fan for the main engine. This led to an out of control fire which required three salvage tugs to deal with the effects of the explosions and fire. However, the extent of the fire meant that the salvage teams could not enter the vessel for 4 days. Cargo areas 3-7 in the ship were significantly damaged and the ships structure was weakened, requiring replacement. Under the pressures, the hatch covers lost their integrity and bulkheads were severely damaged which led to water ingress in all the cargo.
What about you?
Could you afford for this crippling financial, physical and reputational damage to happen to your crew and vessel? The correct answer for any ship owner, ship manager and P&I club is “No.” Chances must not be taken when lives are at risk, and when a vessel is at sea, this is all the time. We call this the “ungoverned space”. Simply put, the ungoverned space is the area where either the regulations or the protecting systems of the critical infrastructure are not effectively providing consistent and reliable safety. This life-threatening issue must be dealt with, with specific regard to loss of contents in fixed fire extinguishing systems and need for improvements to room integrity testing.
Cutting through to what you need to know
Gaseous extinguishing installations are difficult systems. There are few who understand them in all their complexity. Vessels extinguishing installations are its essential defence against the risk of fire at sea. The main factor that needs to be understood is that they must be able to actuate, or release their gas, in the event of a fire. Surely an extinguishing instillation should extinguish? This may seem like an obvious point, but on further investigation the difficulties with this statement arise. What if the extinguishing instillation cannot actuate fully because there isn’t enough gas within the cylinder? Gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurised, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use, shown in the regulations that demand their upkeep e.g. IMO SOLAS FSS Ch5.
“Means shall be provided for the crew to safely check the quantity of the fire extinguishing medium in the container”
Often this is misunderstood, this code specifically states that the crew must test their extinguishing installations in between the periodic inspection, maintenance and certification. Only having the annual inspection by accredited marine servicing companies is not enough – the crew must take responsibility for its own fire protection.  However, what must be noted is that the crew are often not trained or certified to shut-down, dismantle, weigh and re-install the gaseous cylinders.
Adding to this, the details of their leakage within the regulations which is troubling. ISO 14520-1 clearly states that:
If a container shows a loss of agent quantity or a loss of pressure (adjusted for temperature) of more than 5 %, it shall be refilled or replaced
Given that the gaseous systems are designed specifically to the individual need of the vessel then a 5% loss of agent may mean that they would not fully extinguish the fire. In a recent article by the Maritime Executive, Captain Madden urged crews to routinely and properly inspect and test fixed firefighting systems; “too often they are found with… concerns about leakage”. The only way to determine a cylinder is free from leakage is to check its contents. But if the crew cannot weigh their own cylinders, because they are not certified to do so, then how is it possible?
CO2 UK Marine Equipment Directive (MED) UK/EU legislation with US Coast Guard Mutual Recognition
Means should be provided to verify the liquid level in all the cylinders, either by weighing the cylinders or by using a suitable liquid level detector.”
Case Study: Carnival Cruises sought Coltraco Ultrasonics’ expertise
“Ships sink; fires happen”. Addressing these two main causes of vessel loss are critical, especially when all owners and managers are seeking to reduce risk, cut costs and surge on safety. Carnival Cruises chose to protect their fleet by improving fire safety. One aspect of this is that they chose Coltraco Ultrasonics to be their supplier for the Portalevel® MAX Marine which tests the CO2 fire installations onboard for leaks in content.
Coltraco shortlisted for Seatrade Cruise Awards, ‘Supplier of the Year’ thanks to supplying Carnival Cruises
  • Portalevel® MAX Marine is designed primarily for the vessels’ crew to inspect large fire suppression systems of up to 600 cylinders.
  • The ease of operation in comparison to weighing, increases the ability of more regular and frequent checks, improving fire safety management onboard.
  • Coltraco’s innovative method of inspecting leaking cylinders with ultrasonics, enables identification in under 30 seconds using Portalevel® with one person, instead of the traditional 15 minutes, with two people laboriously weighing.
  • The safety of their ships is integral for the continuation of their business success and it can be for yours too.
Using ultrasonic technology - to pinpoint the liquid level of suppressant agent in the cylinders of the extinguishing system- testing is quicker and easier. Available anywhere worldwide with 7 service stations to support you for the lifetime of the equipment as part of Coltraco Customer Care (CCC); details on or in the MSG IMPA p/n: 652776.
Combined with the MAX Marine, The Portasteele® Calculator is an advanced calculator application, that converts the liquid level height of C02,NOVEC™ 1230 and FM-200® liquefied gaseous extinguishant agent readings taken on an ultrasonic non-destructive liquid level indicator device into the agent weight/mass.  Furthermore, the Portasteele® can convert an expected agent weight back to the required liquid level allowing users to anticipate where the level should be. The Portasteele has widely been recognised by awards, as a finalist in the Safety at Sea Awards 2017 and the Tanker & Trade Awards 2016.
Improve Onboard Safety Management System with Portalevel® MAX Marine
The maintenance of installations must be a priority. It need not be expensive nor time consuming, Coltraco will support you in ensuring the safety of your crew and vessel. Tragic case studies of incidents such as MSC Flaminia prove that fire safety onboard must be a priority. Don’t minimally comply with regulations and thereby risk the effectiveness of your installations. Coltraco are proud that they can make your critical safety processes more effective.