Shipowners Must Do More To Prevent Engineroom Fires

Shipowners are increasingly lax when it comes to upholding 2003 amendments to the Safety of Life at Sea Convention that are designed to prevent engineroom fires, according to a loss prevention circular from Gard.

The circular says that the risk of fire is highest when maintenance work is taking place or immediately afterwards, but shipowners can underestimate the risks that certain repairs present because they are perceived to be simple. Because of this, owners sometimes fail to implement safety precautions.

“Typical examples are missing hot-work permits and the absence of a fire watch,” the Norwegian P&I club claims. “Following a period of maintenance, the time available to prepare the vessel and get [it] 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 rules require ships to be equipped with jacketed pipes in high-pressure fuel oil delivery lines, for high-temperature surfaces at risk of flammable oil impingement after a failure of an oil line to be insulated, and for spray shields to be provided for flammable oil lines immediately above or near potential ignition sources.
However, the impact of the amendments has not been as strong as expected and an initial focus on the required preventive measures “may have diminished somewhat”, the circular says.

Because insulating materials may degrade over time, shipowners should regularly check these materials, as well as spray shields and drainage arrangements for jacketed fuel oil pipes, Gard says.

Although thermal imaging cameras can identify high-temperature surfaces in enginerooms, Gard believes, it is not mandatory to use them.

“Serious fires have arisen because of failure to recognise potential fire hazards and, above all, the best fire prevention is a well-trained crew,” Gard said. “Training and experience transfer between crew should aim to create a common understanding of all hazards present in an engineroom and their potential consequences.”

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