As Are Solum, Senior Claims Executive, Lawyer, Arendal, there has been no shortage of smaller fires, near misses on-board and fires taking place in containers within terminal areas.
In fact, statistics suggest that the frequency of fires occuring in containerized cargo is not decreasing. By Gard's count and on average there has been roughly one fire every two weeks so far in 2020.
The most frequent source of cargo-related fires is self-heating in charcoal. In second place are various kinds of dangerous chemicals, while third are batteries. Regarding batteries, there have been several cases where batteries have collapsed inside their packages and caused fires when damaged.
In addition, mis-declaration of dangerous goods make it impossible for shipping lines and vessel planners to control where the containers are stowed on-board. This could expose dangerous goods to heat sources and make fire detection and firefighting difficult.
As for the regulatory side, Gard believes that the SOLAS Convention does not meet the SOLAS objectives to prevent fire and protect life on-board modern container ships.
Many flag states seem to support this position, as they have submitted proposals to the IMO’s maritime safety committee to review the regulations ahead of market developments.
Nevertheless, COVID-19 has impacted the meeting activity at the IMO, with Gard though urging regulators to progress this important work throughout 2021 and beyond.
On the brightside, the shipping industry is developing equipment to improve fire safety. Namely, Mr. Solum notes that there are new vessels with additional water cannons on deck as well as newly developed portable equipment to fight fires remotely inside individual containers.
Moreover, container shipping lines are looking to improve booking practices to find the best possible methods for preventing dangerous mis-declared cargo coming onboard.
For the “cargo side”, it is taking the matter of declaring and securing goods for safe transport seriously. One example is the newly established Cargo Integrity Group,which aims to ensure a consistent and diligent application of the CTU Code throughout the cargo supply chain.
All these steps are very important as it is likely to take many years to change the SOLAS regulations. The shipping industry will have to continue to work together to improve the odds as we can all agree that the rate of a cargo related container ship fire every two weeks is not acceptable
Mr. Solum concludes.