Namely, Gard organised a conference in Arendal, Norway, 17-18 October 2019, which gathered many shipping stakeholders, from IMO, to flags, shipowners and insurers, in efforts to push for more discussions on preventing and mitigating such fires.

In light of the conference, Christen Guddal, Chief Claims Officer at Gard highlighted

In recent times, serious cargo-related fires on board container ships have occurred at the rate of about one a month. The increased size and cargo capacity of container ships have a real impact on the potential severity of such incidents.

Cargo fires are not only an environmental concern, they also cause large losses across liability, property and loss of income covers, and challenge ship operators leading to severe business disruption and reputational damage.

Taking advantage of the opportunity of key players being altogether, IUMI strengthened its position on this alarming issue and its rapid escalation, as fire on cargoes need a quick response and a know-how perspective.

Speaking in the Forum, Helle Hammer, Chair of IUMI's Policy Forum noted

Fire-fighting capabilities onboard containerships are deficient and we need to see more headway to improve the safety of the crew, the environment, the cargo and the ships themselves.

Ms Hammer added that the issue of mis-declaration or non-declaration of cargo seriously affects the safety implications of a vessel and result to incidents. This is because cargo areas have high potential of fire eruption, so all precautions should be taken to ensure that inflammable cargoes are kept in isolated conditions.

Concerning mis-declaration of cargoes, Hapag Lloyd recently announced a penalty of USD 15,000 per container for those who fail to properly offer and declare hazardous cargoes prior to their shipment.

Therefore, IUMI proposes IMO to:

  1. strengthen fire protection in the cargo area of container vessels;
  2. amend SOLAS by explicitly including active and/or passive fire protection on board new container vessels;
  3. consider the need to address the firefighting equipment of existing container vessels. 

During the conference, Gard's Guddal added that their mission is to enable sustainable maritime development together with our Members, clients and other stakeholders in the industry, bringing experts together to share knowledge and discuss possible solutions.

We hope that the conference can contribute to build a broader consensus on which risk mitigation measures may be effective and viable for the industry going forward.

Today's means of controlling a fire in the cargo hold seem inefficient, whereas the safety objectives set out in SOLAS do not seem to be met, with Ms Hammer highlighting that the shipping industry should act now to prevent additional, fatal incidents.

Ms Hammer shared her concerns on the fact that the shipping industry can not overlook the problem, as container ships are becoming bigger and more complex than ever, meaning that this will only worsen the problem.

In addition, in 2017, IUMI launched a position paper providing recommendations on improving firefighting systems onboard vessels. As such, IUMI's proposals included:

  1. Responsible authorities, class and relevant industry stakeholders should engage in discussions on how to further improve the fire detection, protection and firefighting capabilities on board container vessels.
  2. Implementation of new and improved measures to fight fires on container vessels will not only protect the vessel and the cargo, but also the lives and wellbeing of the crew.

During the launch of their position paper, Ms Hammer addressed that

We believe the mode of firefighting set out in SOLAS is not suitable for a modern containership...We suggest creating individual fire compartments below deck to prevent fire from spreading. These compartments would be fitted with fixed Co2 and water-based firefighting systems.

During her speech, Ms Hammer also referred to recent fire incidents on container ships, including Yantian Express, in which the fire began from one container before spreading to all the container onboard the vessel; APL Vancouver where the fire similarly broke out in one of its cargo holds; Grande America, E.R. Kobe and KMTC Hong Kong.

Regarding container ship fires, the three basic steps for a better preparation are:

  1. Look for the sources of ignition;
  2. Be prepared for engine room fires;
  3. Ensuring proper maintenance and inspection

In addition, IUMI, supported by the German flag state, calls for additional club administrations on further support with the aim of bringing the fire issue on IMO's agenda in 2020.

In its recently-launched position paper regarding cargo theft, IUMI recommends that firefighting systems should be arranged to segregate the ship into fire compartments where the fire can be isolated to prevent it from spreading. Then, onboard systems will be able to coll the containers, still allowing them to burn out in a controlled manner.

IUMI also proposed fixed monitors to adequately attack the fire and improved fire detection system are further measures proposed to allow for an appropriate response mechanism.

Better prevention measures must also address the concerning rise in cargo misdeclaration. We are encouraged to see larger carriers already beginning to crack down on this problem

... concluded Ms Hammer.

To explore more on IUMI's 2017 position paper "Firefighting systems on board container vessels", click on the PDF herebelow