Two recent onboard containership fires have fueled concerns from International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) over the challenges involved with managing these incidents at sea as seafarers are being asked to tackle onboard fires with inadequate equipment.
The two recent containership fires which raised concerns involve the 2015-built NNCI Arauco which ignited during welding operations on September 1 while the ship was in Hamburg. Some 300 firefighters were deployed, the vessel’s hold was sealed and flooded with CO₂, however, the attempt to extinguish the fire failed. Water was then used for flooding the hatch and stopped before stability problems occur. Finally, foam was used to bring the fire under control.
The other fire incident occurred on May 13, 2016, when Maersk Karachi caught fire due to welding operations. More than 100 firefighters were deployed to control the blaze and water monitors were needed to flood the hold to extinguish the fire.
“At sea, below-deck fires cannot be fought with water and so CO₂ is used instead to displace the oxygen and extinguish the fire. However, if the fire is burning within a container, the box will protect it from the CO₂ and so this method of fire-fighting is rarely successful,” Uwe-Peter Schieder, Vice Chairman of IUMI’s Loss Prevention Committee said.
He added that there are currently no other methods of fighting a containership fire below deck.
“Even on deck, the crew only have access to hoses and nozzles. They do not have sufficient monitors or foam and so cannot cool the vessel’s structure,” Schieder said.
Apart from the SOLAS regulations, IUMI is calling for further dialogue involving IMO, class, shipbuilders and shipping companies to further improve firefighting capabilities onboard containerships.