Engine rooms on ships have all the ingredients for a fire, while one of the most common causes is lube-oil or fuel-oil mist spraying onto hot surfaces and then igniting.

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Commenting on the issue, Prevention Peter Stålberg, Senior Technical Advisor at The Swedish Club, explains that all types of oil pipes must be screened and flanges protected so that any leak will not spray onto a hot surface. Additionally, any surface with a temperature above 220°C must be thermally insulated.

Today, every ship must have double containment piping for high pressure oil piping. Any leakage inside the containment will lead to a small collecting tank, showing the operator an early warning of a problem. Moreover, any other fuel piping should be screened as well.

At new builds the insulation of the exhaust pipe system is normally in good condition. Nevertheless, Mr. Stålberg mentions that:

Over time, however, when overhauling engine room machinery and removing/refitting exhaust pipes, the insulation will deteriorate. An exhaust pipe system insulated to 95% is not good enough – it must be 100% intact – always

In order to prevent fires from occurring, preventing an engine room fire must become a priority. Nonetheless, if a fire does take place, the time and effectiveness of the response will be crucial.

Aiming to help operators avoid engine room fires, the Swedish Club suggests the following measures:

  • Ensure that the insulation covering heated surfaces is always in good condition.
  • Use thermal imaging at regular intervals to spot and identify inadequate insulation and hot surfaces.
  • Routinely check and inspect pipe work and screening arrangements for deterioration.
  • Any leakage found should be investigated and dealt with immediately.
  • No woodwork, combustible material or flammable compounds should be stored in machinery spaces.
  • Ensure by regular testing that passive safety devices such as fire dampers and quick closing valves are in good condition and fully operational.
  • Make sure the engine alarm system is fully functional. Always investigate alarms thoroughly and take prompt action before clearing the alarm status.
  • Get to know your fixed fire fighting system. Have the system serviced at regular intervals by a manufacturer’s specialist and make sure that release instructions are clear and correct.
  • Focus your fire drills in machinery spaces. Training is the key to a successful response.
  • The response time is crucial for the outcome. Respond immediately as soon as you detect a fire.

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