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Container Ships Need Better Fire-Fighting Systems, Insurance Group Says

The International Union of Marine Insurance has called for better fire-fighting systems on board container ships, citing its concern that current provisions are insufficient given the growing size of container vessels and a recent spate of fires on board ships.

Recent examples of fires include those on NNCI Arauco (9,000 TEU) in September 2016 during welding operations whilst alongside in Hamburg, Hanjin Pennsylvania (4,000 TEU) in November 2002 claiming the lives of two crew members and resulting in a constructive total loss; and MSC Flaminia (6,732TEU) in July 2012, resulting in three fatalities and also a constructive total loss.   

In remote locations and on the open sea, it can often be hours or even days after a fire has broken out before external assistance arrives. As a rule, only seagoing tugs carry the necessary equipment for effective firefighting. Until they arrive, the crew has to rely on its own resources, and the fire can spread extensively. As a result, as with the MSC Flaminia, it can take weeks to bring the fire under control.

Whilst IUMI expressly welcomes the 2014 amendment to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) to increase the effectiveness of firefighting, the association believes more should be done. 

"Recent amendments to SOLAS are a move in the right direction but they do not go far enough, said Helle Hammer, IUMI political forum chair. The legal requirements prescribed by SOLAS were originally developed for fires on board general cargo vessels, and these ships are structurally very different to a container vessel, and cargo is stored differently. We believe the mode of fire-fighting set out in SOLAS is not suitable for a modern container ship."

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