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Focus on containership fires could halt rising trend

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There are signs various initiatives to combat the issue of containership fires are starting to bear fruit with a lower number of incidents in recent months.

Classification society ABS highlighted moves to counter the growing risk of containership fires during a webinar yesterday. Jan Otto de Kat, global sustainability director, and Gareth Burton, technology vp, outlined moves by the class society to address the issue, including a series of guidelines on the detection and fighting of fires in the cargo areas of container ships above and below deck, and in superstructure spaces. ABS has also issued other guidelines on the risk-based cargo stowage of dangerous goods.

The rising frequency of containership fires has hit the headlines many times following a spate of high profile incidents recently. The rapid increase in ship size is a chief concern as effective fire detection on board, particularly deep in a ship, presents a growing challenge. The incidence of shipboard fires, which at one stage was running at an average of one every 60 days, has dipped in recent months, with lower cargo volumes on arterial routes likely to have contributed to the fall, according to experts.

They also point to several initiatives which may have a bearing on a lower incident frequency. Last September, the Chinese Shipowners’ Association met with Chinese authorities to discuss accidents on ships involving fire or explosion caused by undeclared or mis-declared dangerous goods. One aim of the meeting was to encourage Chinese government departments and prosecuting authorities to pay more attention to the problem.

Meanwhile, in March this year, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Group of P&I Clubs (IG) made a joint submission to the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee, highlighting the grave danger of container ship fires both to seafarers and to the safety of navigation. Calling for a holistic approach to the whole issue including fire-fighting capability on board ship, the ICS and the IG highlighted the need for more robust risk prevention, particularly the non-declaration and misdeclaration of dangerous goods by shippers to carriers.

They also stressed the need for member states which have not yet implemented container inspection programmes, the results of which are supposed to be reported to the IMO, to set up such arrangements without delay. Only a few states have either set up such programmes or report their findings to the IMO – seven in each of 2019 and 2018, and four in 2017.


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