Stopping the spread of ship fires

Setting fire. Wall of wooden matches ready to burn. Credit: Getty Images

A showcase of the innovative solutions shortlisted for this year’s Safety at Sea awards that promise to prevent or reduce the impact of shipboard fires

When a fire breaks out on a ship the crew are heavily reliant on installed systems, or the portable firefighting equipment at their disposal to fight the fire and stop it in its tracks. While perhaps not the most common safety incident, ship fires pose the most significant threat to life, cargo, and the environment at sea. Despite major ship losses being in decline year on year, underlining the culmination of long-term improvements of safety in the global shipping industry, ship fires are still a huge issue for the industry.

The 2019 edition of the annual Safety and Shipping Review, published by insurance group Allianz, stated that 174 ship fires were reported in 2018. In the first half of this year, the industry suffered an epidemic of catastrophic ship fires. The container ship APL Vancouver suffered a fire in one of its cargo holds on 31 January 2019 on a passage to Singapore. Three containers containing charcoal on board ER Kobe caught fire on February 2019 in the South China Sea. A month later, the Grimaldi container ro-ro vessel Grande America was hit by major fire and subsequently sank 180 n miles (290 km) off France’s coast.

Then, in May a second Grimaldi container ro-ro vessel, Grande Europa, suffered fires in multiple locations on board, with the vessel suffering extensive damage. Soon after, in late May, a box ship owned by South Korean company KMTC, the KMTC HongKong, caught fire and exploded while anchored in the Thailand port of Laem Chabang, with 211 people injured.

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