Interview with HCB Live: episode 1 - container ship fires

Interview with HCB Live episode 1 container ship fires
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Episode 1 of Peter Mackay, HCB Live's interview on containership fires with TT Club's Risk Management Director, Peregrine Storrs-fox. This episode looks at what can be done to prevent container ship fires after 2019 was plagued with incidents.

Watch the full video here are read the detailed summary below 

Container Ship Fires: A Growing Concern with Dangerous Goods 

Container ship fires have become a recurring issue in recent years, raising concerns about the safety and proper handling of these incidents. In an interview with Peregrine Storrs-Fox, an industry expert, several key points were discussed, shedding light on the nature and causes of these fires, as well as the challenges faced in combating them. Without relying on additional sources, this article delves into the insights shared during the interview to provide a comprehensive understanding of the container ship fire problem. 

The Rising Trend: Container Ship Fires on the Increase 

Historically, there has been an average of six major container ship fires annually over the past 20 years. A major fire refers to incidents where a substantial number of containers catch fire, leading to significant losses. However, this average has been slightly exceeded in the current year, with seven major fires recorded by August, suggesting a potential departure from the norm. 

Dangerous Goods: Implications in Container Ship Fires 

Dangerous goods play a significant role in these fires, as most incidents over the past two decades have involved these hazardous materials. The initial fire and subsequent explosions are often linked to the presence of dangerous goods within the containers. Notably, even inert cargo can contribute to the intensity of a fire once ignited. The extreme heat generated during some of these fires, exceeding a thousand degrees Celsius, implies that almost anything within the vicinity would burn. 

Non-declaration and Mis-declaration: A Contributing Factor to Fires 

A major concern is the improper declaration or complete omission of dangerous goods in the containers. Investigations into specific cases have revealed that the majority of incidents involved containers with undeclared or mis-declared goods. This highlights the potential for a significant problem lurking beneath the surface, where each near-miss incident could escalate into a major catastrophe. 

Challenges of Dealing with Sealed Containers on Fire 

Identifying and responding to fires within sealed containers pose considerable challenges. Once sealed, the exact contents of a container become uncertain, making it difficult to formulate an appropriate response strategy. Crew members, who are not trained firefighters, are often responsible for combating these fires with limited onboard firefighting capabilities. 

Charcoal Fires: A Hazardous Cargo with Regulatory Challenges 

Several cargo types have been identified as problematic and commonly associated with non-declaration or mis-declaration. Charcoal has been linked to multiple fires, and its classification as a dangerous good is subject to a special provision that can exempt it from certain safety regulations. The production and characteristics of charcoal vary across different regions, making it challenging to determine the adequacy of its production and suitability for transport. 

Problematic Cargoes: Beyond Calcium Hypochlorite 

Calcium hypochlorite, despite attracting significant attention, is not the sole culprit in these incidents. However, it highlights the risks associated with complex chemical production processes and the potential dangers stemming from impurities or production hiccups. Effective marking, declaration, and placarding of cargo, along with appropriate packing methods, are crucial for ensuring safe transport throughout the supply chain. 

To address these concerns, industry organizations, such as the UK P&I Club, have developed guidelines and publications like "Book it Right, Pack it Tight" to promote proper handling and packing of dangerous goods. The International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, which undergoes regular updates, sets expectations for shippers and freight forwarders involved in the transport of polymerizing substances and other hazardous materials. 

Ensuring Accurate Classification of Chemicals 

The interview also highlighted the need to assess and classify new chemicals accurately, ensuring they are placed in the appropriate categories based on their specific risks. Failure to manage changes in the supply chain, as exemplified by the MSC Flaminia incident, can have severe consequences. The incident underscored the importance of thorough risk assessment and communication throughout the supply chain to mitigate potential disasters. 

In conclusion, container ship fires have become a pressing issue within the maritime industry. The interview insights provided a valuable understanding of the causes and challenges associated with these fires, particularly concerning the presence of dangerous goods and the need for accurate declaration and handling. Industry stakeholders must collaborate to improve safety protocols, enhance training, and ensure effective risk management throughout the supply chain to mitigate the risks posed by container ship fires. 

Staff Author

TT Club