Ship Owners Reminded of Engine Room Fire Dangers

The focus on preventive measures required since July 2003 "may have diminished somewhat," marine insurer Gard says in a new loss prevention circular.

Maritime insurer Gard has issued a loss prevention circular devoted to preventing fires in engine rooms. The Norwegian company is one of the world's leading marine insurers, and it insures the M/V Bareli container ship that remains grounded near the entrance to Jiangyin Port in Fujian Province, China, where authorities continue to remove fuel oil and containers.

The new circular reminds ship company owners that they are responsible for ensuring crews are properly trained and equipped to comply with relevant standards. The IMO Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) Convention is the main regulatory framework for fire safety aboard ships, and since July 2003 it has required ships to have:

  • jacketed (double) pipes in high-pressure fuel oil delivery lines
  • insulation of all high-temperature surfaces (above 220 degrees C) at risk of flammable oil impingement after a failure of an oil line
  • spray shields for flammable oil lines (fuel, lubrication, and hydraulic oil) located immediately above or near potential ignition sources

The July 2003 regulations don't appear to have made as big an impact as expected, however, "and the initial strong focus on the required preventive measures may have diminished somewhat," according to the document.

Thermal imaging cameras can be useful for identifying high-temperature surfaces in engines rooms, but the circular says Gard is aware of no governing rule or regulation for ships that mandates their use.

"In Gard's experience, the [fire] risks are at their highest when maintenance work is taking place or immediately thereafter," it states. "The risks involved with the execution of a specific repair or maintenance operation are not always readily identifiable and are sometimes underestimated due to the perceived simplicity of the work to be carried out. As a result, additional safety precautions may not be implemented during and after the repair work. Typical examples are missing hot-work permits and the absence of a fire watch. Following a period of maintenance, the time available to prepare the vessel and get her back in operation can be limited, and the refitting of removed insulation mats or spray shields is often left for the crew to complete during the voyage."

The document reminds owners that insulating materials may degrade over time. These materials, as well as spray shields and drainage arrangements for jacketed fuel oil pipes, should be checked regularly, it says.

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