Causes of fire

There are numerous causes of fire but the most relevant to ferries are:

  1. Electrical defects, such as overloaded electrical equipment, damaged cables and poorly formed connections. Electrical faults in vehicles, especially when engines are hot/running. Reefer containers are major sources of fire.
  2. Mechanical failure, such as ignition from overheated bearings or a catastrophic engine failure.
  3. Uncontrolled release of oil or flammable liquid coming into contact with a hot surface, or the release of a low flashpoint fuel, such as petrol vapour, coming into contact with a source of ignition.
  4. Dry, readily combustible materials (such as wood, paper, textiles) coming into contact with an ignition source, such as a lighted cigarette, sparks or conducted heat from burning or cutting, highintensity lights or defective electrical equipment.


  • Ensure that the integrity of structural fire protection is maintained and that it is not compromised during repair and/or modification.
  • Make sure penetrations in compartment boundary bulkheads and decks are fire safe.
  • Identify where emergency cables run and check that they are adequately protected from fire.
  • Have a programme to test fire detectors and alarms so that they are all tested in rotation. Record the results in the log book(s).
  • Have a programme to test fixed firefighting system(s) so that the entire system is tested every month. Record the results in the log book(s).
  • Hold realistic fire drills followed by a through debrief in accordance with SOLAS.
  • Familiarise all crew with the firefighting equipment and the potential means for fire to spread from compartments.
  • Test the emergency fire pump and emergency generator during fire drills, ensuring that all crew become familiar with their operation.
  • Send all crew on an advanced firefighting course.
  • Keep garage spaces clean and free from combustible material, such as oil, paper and rags.
  • Keep scuppers clean and free from debris. Water deluge systems can release large volumes of water.
  • Stow dangerous goods safely in the properly designated area.
  • Fully close fire doors and ramps, and have measures in place to ensure they remain fully closed.
  • Have a continuous fire patrol giving special attention to potential fire hazards, such as operating reefer containers/equipment and vehicles with hot engines. • Investigate every lighted ‘open fire door’ indication lamp.
  • Investigate every fire alarm.
  • Promptly report the discovery of fire.
  • Promptly fight fire, in accordance with training.
  • Be afraid of smoke – it’s toxic.
  • Be afraid of CO2 – it’s an asphyxiant.

Do not 

  • Cut holes in compartment boundaries or thermal insulation.
  • Modify bulkhead or deck pipe and cable penetrations without correctly reinstating fire stopping.
  • Paint over release nozzles in a sprinkler, deluge, CO2 or high fog extinguishing system.
  • Store oil in drums, wood, paper, oily rags or similar combustible material in garage spaces or in spaces without a fixed fire detection and extinguishing system.
  • Wedge a fire door open or disable a door position indicator lamp.
  • Allow passengers in vehicles when the ship is navigating, except on those very short voyages where passengers remain in vehicles.
  • Smoke, or permit smoking, except in dedicated smoking areas.
  • Disable fire detectors or fire alarm zones, without putting alternative precautions in place.

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