This study focused on accident reports from various international sources to highlight causes of fires and factors involved in the development of fire events on board ships of all types built with composite materials. A total of 45 fire accidents were analysed.


The study found that fire incidents almost always are caused by human error, and that maintenance is one of the most important factors. The study highlighted the important lack of knowledge on composite materials through the industry, particularly of their performance in fire.

The project concluded to two key aspects. Firstly, void and open spaces appeared as the third most frequent location of ignition for composite vessels. These areas are considered as areas of low or no fire risk in the HSC Code, due to the material properties of steel.

Secondly, it was found that a hot surface or fluid in contact with composite material appears as the third most frequent cause of ignition for composite vessels. Most likely because of steel properties, the HSC Code does not provide for protection measures related to hot surfaces.

These findings led the Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology to provide some recommendations, after gaining experience from real-life fire onboard vessels:

  • It is recommended to evaluate the risks associated to all areas and systems in the specific vessel design. The evaluation must include all spaces including voids and open spaces. The risk classification of a specific composite vessel design will most likely differ significantly from the risk classifications defined by the HSC Code.
  • As part of identifying the risks associated with areas and systems, a series of fire scenarios should be defined. The fire scenarios should be used to design the procedures that describe how the crew is trained and how they should react in case of fire.
  • Fire safety strategy should be able to tackle both the identified risks and the unforeseen scenarios when they happen.
  • The technical measures should be designed in such a way to meet variations in the fire scenarios and failures in the individual system components.
  • Training of crew including adaptability and creativity skills, is recommended. The training should be very “composite vessel specific”, that is, the crew must be aware how a composite vessel differs from a steel ship in case of fire.

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