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Growing concern over container ship fires: IUMI

Source: Asia Insurance Review | Jan 2017

The maritime insurance community is concerned that fire risks are growing as ships get larger, highlights a report from the International Union of Marine Insurance’s (IUMI).
   Container ships now carry from six to 11 layers of containers on deck which makes it difficult to contain a fire once ignited, said the report by Captain Uwe-Peter Schieder, Vice Chairman of the IUMI’s Loss Prevention committee. Major fires on container vessels count among the worst hazards in global shipping, but it was last year that the issue came to the fore.
   Last year alone, there were three major fires on board the Maersk Karachi (May 2016), NNCI Arauco and Wan Hai 307 (September 2016). All three ships required external help to extinguish the fires, despite two being in the harbour and the third anchored just off Hong Kong, drawing concerns over the challenges involved with managing these incidents at sea. In addition, firefighting has always been more challenging for container ships compared to the use of carbon dioxide on bulk carriers, as the former has a higher chance of mis-declared cargo and presence of oxygen in containers. 
   Currently, firefighting operations on these vessels are limited to allowing the containers to burn out in a controlled manner in such a way that the fire cannot spread further. While this approach is correct, the tendency towards ever-larger ships means new technical solutions are required, Capt Schieder noted.
   The IUMI is calling for further dialogue involving the International Maritime Organisation, classification societies, shipbuilders and shipping companies to further improve firefighting capabilities on board container ships. Its Loss Prevention Committee is also preparing a paper which identifies potential sustainable solutions to protect lives 
at sea.
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