While maritime casualties have halved over the past 10 years, fires on ships remain one of the maritime industry’s biggest safety issues, according to a new report from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS ). The danger was hammered home last week by incidents involving the Felicity As freighter/RoRo, which caught fire in the Atlantic while carrying thousands of cars, and the Euroferry Olympia passenger ferry fire off the coast of Greece.
GATS Annual Safety and shipping review report revealed that the number of fires on board large ships has increased in recent years. In 2019 alone, there were a record 40 cargo-related fires, or one every 10 days. Across all ship types, the number of fires or explosions resulting in total losses reached a four-year high of 10 in 2020, representing about one in five total losses globally.
“The shipping industry has seen its safety record improve significantly over the past decade, with the number of total losses now at an all-time high,” said Captain Rahul Khanna, global head of the consultancy. in maritime risks at AGCS. “However, fires on carriers, ro-ro ferries (RoRos), container ships and other vessels remain among the biggest concerns in the industry, as evidenced by the recent increase in incidents.”
Ro-ro and car carriers, in particular, can be particularly prone to fire and stability issues, Khanna said.
“To facilitate the transportation of automobiles, the internal spaces are not divided into separate sections like other cargo ships,” Khanna said. “The lack of internal partitions can have a negative impact on fire safety, and a small fire on a vehicle or battery can get out of control very quickly. Vehicles are not easily accessible once charging is complete.
“The large volume of air inside the open cargo decks provides an immediate supply of oxygen in the event of a fire. At AGCS we take an in-depth look at operator risk management and have worked with a number of companies operator of RoRo vessels to suit [on] a strong risk management program.
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Other findings of the report include:
- Notable recent incidents include the sinking of the Great America, a RoRo freighter, after its cargo of vehicles and containers caught fire in 2019. In 2020, a fire on the car carrier Hoegh Xiamen lasted eight days before dying out.
- fires/explosions are the third leading cause of total shipping vessel losses over the past decade (2011-2020), with 99 reported total losses accounting for approximately 11% of the overall total losses. The two main causes of total losses are sinking (54%) and sinking/grounding (20%).
- Freighters account for 40% of total losses over the past decade (348 out of 876). liners/cruise ships account for less than 10% (69 out of 876).
- Fires on board ships were the fifth leading cause of maritime incidents worldwide. Over the past decade, 1,700 incidents have been reported for all vessel types, representing approximately 7% of all reported incidents.
- Container ship fires often start in containers, which can be the result of non-declaration or misdeclaration of dangerous goods such as chemicals and batteries. When misdeclared, they can be improperly packed and stored, which can lead to fire and/or complicate detection and firefighting. The greater the number of containers on board, the greater the likelihood that at least one could ignite and cause a fire, and the more difficult it is to contain and extinguish the fire.
- Another contributing factor is a vessel’s firefighting and fire detection capabilities relative to its size. Ships are getting bigger every year, and major incidents have demonstrated that fires can easily get out of control, causing the crew to abandon ship for safety reasons, increasing the extent of the eventual loss.