The international shipping industry is wrestling with a spate of fires aboard vessels at sea in recent months that have crippled several big cargo ships, killed a number of seafarers and cost companies and their customers hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.
The latest blaze came on March 10, when a nearly 31,000-ton combined container and automobile carrier caught fire in the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France, leading to the rescue of 27 crew members by a British Navy frigate. The Grimaldi Lines-operated Grande America sank two days later, taking more than 2,000 cars that included luxury Audi and Porsche models, to the seafloor.
The disaster was the fourth big ship fire in the past four months, and followed a handful of fires last year that included one that heavily damaged the megaship Maersk Honam, owned by Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container ship operator by capacity, and killed five crew members.
Maersk officials say the string of incidents is likely a coincidence, but it has raised alarms among operators, insurers and shipping customers, and focused more attention on the safe handling of the big quantities of goods that move on increasingly large and packed oceangoing vessels.
“It was a wake-up call,” Maersk’s head of fleet technology, Ole Graa Jakobsen, said of the fire that broke out March 6, 2018, on the Maersk Honam, a 353-meter (1,158 foot) ship with capacity for 15,000 containers, in the Arabian Sea.
Maersk has since barred the stowage below deck of dangerous goods and other shipments that may be resistant to fire fighting. The cause of the Honam fire, which took five weeks to bring under control, remains under investigation, but Maersk has said the ship carried shipments classified as dangerous goods.
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