Tackling the menace of container fires

Container fires can be extremely serious generating superhot temperatures, spreading rapidly through other boxes, endangering the lives of the crew and the ship as whole.

As containerships get ever larger the potential problem is multiplied yet when it comes to tools to fight these fires, which can rage at up 500 degrees C or more, they are remarkably primitive. This is where Danish start-up Rosenby Engineering spotted gap in the market for a more effective solution to combat highly dangerous container fires in the shape of the HydroPen. Speaking to Seatrade Maritime News recently Julius Skjoldby, one of the founders of Rosenby Engineering, explained the scale of the problem. The Swedish Club fire guide, entitled “Fire!”, says that just 0.76% of cargo claims are due to fire, yet in terms of total costs of claims fire relates to some 28%.

“So it is definitely a major issue economically in the business in general,” says Skjoldby.

So why are container fires do difficult to actually combat and extinguish.

He explains: “First of all the crew has no suitable/effective tools to fight fires inside the containers. They have primitive tools to hammer or try to drill a hole manually. It is basically super primitive and taken into consideration that it is plus 500 degrees c temperature and that it is done with heavy smoke diver suit, equipment and so forth.”

“Besides who wants to approach a container with fire which content is unknown.”

Mis-declared dangerous cargoes such as fireworks have been the source of container fires in the past leading to disastrous consequences.

“Another aspect is that they are loaded so close and the fire easily spread. If penetration is not possible with the existing tools they basically just spray water from outside with water monitors trying the best as possible to cool and minimize the spreading of the fire – and the ship head for shore as fast as possible to get assistance,” Skjoldby adds.

A 2016 amendment to SOLAS requires vessels to have one form of penetration device, for example a hammer and spear, but such methods have been deemed inadequate by IUMI.

“It is interesting that class/flag states has allowed vessels to be build in a size with so many container where there was no direct firefighting options available,” he comments.

This is Rosenby comes in, a company founded by two mariners, a chief officer and a chief engineer.

“None of us has experienced an actual fire onboard but we have seen how primitive and unsuccessful the methods that are available,” he says.

“We saw the problem and the gap and hence a potential for a future market. We developed the ideas and started building the first prototypes in the workshop. Now we are here with the HydroPen.”

The HydroPen is attached to the container that has a suspected fire and is fully automatic using only water pressure to penetrate the container door. It fits any standard shipping container and uses a standard fire hose. Rosenby says it can penetrate the container and start dousing the fire within just six seconds of being attached.

“As mentioned it is a plug and play device. It only requires a firehose from an existing outlet onboard and then it is running. The weight is less than 5 kg so it is super agile and easy to carry around,” Skjoldby explains.

The HydroPen has been tested on land and a video can be viewed below, however, at the time of the interview had not been tested onboard ship. “As of now it has not been tested shipboard. It has undergone several tests on containers ashore and all proven successful. The advantage about testing ashore is that we can easier set up different scenarios and test the limits.”

Click here for animated video on the HydroPen

Real life test of the HydroPen below

 

Posted 04 December 2017

© Copyright 2017 Seatrade (UBM (UK) Ltd). Replication or redistribution in whole or in part is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Seatrade.

Marcus Hand

Editor, Seatrade Maritime News