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Jan de Boer: mitigating the risk of containership fires

We caught up with Jan de Boer, senior legal officer at IMO, to discuss disruption, risk and silver bullet solutions to containership fires.

Jan de Boer is a senior legal officer within the IMO. He largely deals with liability issues with regards to the transportation of dangerous substances and the welfare of crews onboard ships transporting these substances.

In September, at the Hazardous Cargoes Forum (part of Shipping Transformation Asia) in Singapore, Jan de Boer was part of a round table discussion on what can the industry do to mitigate the risk of containership fires. After his round table, we caught up with Mr. de Boer to talk about disruption, risk, and silver bullet solutions to containership fires.

Watch the video now or read the transcript below.



Iain Gomersall: What factors aggravate the risk of fires at sea?

Jan de Boer: In the last decade we have seen immense growth in the size of ships. These large boxships, which transport a large volume of containers, can create difficulties considering their large scale and how the operate.

Also, as the chemical industry has grown, we have seen an increase in the transportation of dangerous goods in general.

Q: Is there a silver bullet solution to mitigate the risk of containerships fires? Is there anything which can be done better?

JDB: From the sessions which covered this during the event there was an acknowledgment from the industry that risk is not only about the declaration of dangerous goods or cargoes, but that the risk must evolve with dangerous cargoes which are not declared.

In my opinion, inspections should cover the whole range of transportation as any cargo can be dangerous and create difficulties at sea.

Aside from this, larger ships are not always able to provide the necessary actions in response to an incident.

Q: Digital disruption - has it improved or interfered with your field?

JdB: From the outset, I think that the industry has been extremely well-informed about what is being shipped by vetting, but the increase in size of transport shows there is a need for further inspection.

It might not always be possible to have the risk analysis, which is needed, but together with the phenomenon that the industry would like to make use of computers, digitalisation, and fully autonomous ships, this could be realised.

However, it does create new challenges.

Q:  What is the purpose of the HNS convention?

JdB: We need the HNS convention because there are major shipping incidents which are not covered under present regimes that cover persistent oils, bunker oils, salvage and wreck removal, and passenger liability, but not specifically to the transportation of dangerous goods and the vital trade of chemicals.

With the increase of these substances being transported, there is an urgent need to have a regime for the compensation of victims of the maritime transportation of these goods.

Q: Why is an event of this nature important to the industry?

JdB: I think that the interplay between the industry players in the broader field of shipping is so important that the responsibility is a shared one.

You find when it comes to liability, the burden is not taken on by one of the parties, but that they must agree on how the responsibilities has decided.

Q: What kind of conversations have you had at this event?

JdB: The IMO would like to promote the existing regimes as a lot of the regulation is there but not always enforced.

We believe that members states, and the industry, should be aware of what can already be done even though some regulations have not always had the required immediate effect.

There is so much to be done in promoting the effectiveness of the existing regulations, and we believe it might be very helpful to reach out to other industry players, authorities, member states and the likes, to make them aware and consider ratifying and acceding to these conventions.

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