IUMI: It’s time to take action against containership fires

IUMI: It’s time to take action against containership fires
Helle Hammer, IUMI Policy Forum Chair

The International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) has called for an urgent improvement to on board firefighting systems in light of the alarming number of containership fires in 2019 so far.

This year fires have broken out on the Yantian Express, APL Vancouver, Grande America, E.R. Kobe and KMTC Hong Kong and IUMI has become more concerned with the escalation.

The union strengthened its position on this global issue and recently spoke out at a conference in Arendal Norway which was organised by marine insurer and P&I Club, Gard, and attended by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) as well as flag states, shipowners, salvors and insurers.

Helle Hammer, chair of IUMI’s policy forum, said: “Fire-fighting capabilities onboard containerships are deficient and we need to see more headway to improve the safety of the crew, the environment, the cargo and the ships themselves.

“Mis and non-declaration of cargo has serious safety implications and is the root cause behind these tragic incidents. There is agreement among experts that the current means of controlling a fire in the cargo hold are of little effect.”

The objectives set out in IMO’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) “do not seem to be met”, according to Hammer, and IUMI believes that the time for action is now.

During the IMO’s 101st Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) meeting in June 2019, IUMI raised its concerns and received support from various quarters including the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS).

In partnership with the German flag state, IUMI is calling for additional support from flag administrations and other stakeholders to bring this issue to IMO’s agenda in 2020.

The union has been passionate about the subject for a few years, having published a position paper in 2017 which raised a variety of concerns including inadequate fire detection and onboard firefighting systems both on deck and under deck as well as the need to revise SOLAS.

Hammer said: “Our position paper recommends that firefighting systems should be arranged to segregate the ship into fire compartments where the fire can be isolated to prevent it from spreading.

“Onboard systems could then cool the containers and allow them to burn out in a controlled manner. Fixed monitors to adequately attack the fire and improved fire detection systems are further measures proposed to allow for an appropriate response mechanism.”

IUMI also highlights the importance of better prevention measures addressing the rise in misdeclared cargo and has been encouraged by larger carriers beginning to crack down on the issue.

Hammer added: “The sad reality is that we can no longer sit idle. Containerships are increasing in size and complexity and this will only exacerbate the problem.”

IUMI is calling for all stakeholders to work together and encourage the IMO to strengthen fire protection in the cargo area of container vessels, amend SOLAS by explicitly including active and/or passive fire protection on board new vessels and to consider the need to address the firefighting equipment of existing container vessels.”