Fire statistics are good, but flooding still an issue

Degradation of cleanliness and maintenance standards happens slowly. Photo Credit: DNV GL. Degradation of cleanliness and maintenance standards happens slowly. Photo Credit: DNV GL.

Fire safety has never been better thanks to today’s ship designs and technology, but regulatory changes are on the horizon to improve flooding risks, writes Wendy Laursen.

A shipowner operating 20 vessels can expect one major engineroom fire every 10 years. For cruise vessels, it is every five, says DNV GL – based on its statistical figures. Over half of engineroom fires result from oil leakage on to hot spots. These statistics are better than they have been in the past, and incidents where ships are rapidly engulfed in fire seem to be a thing of the past. A major step change in preventing this occurred in 1989 with the introduction of structural fire protection. Since then, regulations have been developed further and detection and extinguishing equipment refined.

But the industry records are not yet clear of serious incidents. Carnival Corporation has seen both Carnival Splendor and Carnival Triumph suffer major fires. An engineer died in an engineroom fire on a Norwegian cruise vessel in 2011, and in July last year, an engineer died after being trapped in the engineroom of tanker Samudera which caught fire on its way to Bangladesh.

As a result of continuing concerns, DNV GL mounted a huge engineroom fire safety awareness campaign in 2013. The campaign was not about the need for new requirements. On the contrary, says Hanne Solum Bentsen, the senior engineer for machinery and systems that led the initiative. She says the aim was to raise awareness so that people continued to focus on following the existing requirements, particularly regarding engineroom maintenance.

“The requirements are there, and I believe they are good. The issue is to use the systems we already have, to maintain them and to train the crew,” she says. “There are so many regulations to follow and tasks to occupy the crew. Degradation of cleanliness and maintenance standards happens slowly. You don’t wake up one morning and the engineroom is dirty and the pumps are breaking. It happens slowly so that you always have the impression that the situation is normal.”

The day-to-day focus on engineroom fire integrity needs to consider different onboard areas separately. Well-known direct causes of fires include exposed hot surfaces, insufficient shielding/screening, ruptured pipes, maintenance issues and failing or late fire-fighting response by both systems and people, says Ms Bentsen. Engine room fires with serious consequences are usually a result of multiple barriers failing in sequence, not a single failure. It is therefore important that ship management includes a clear policy on how to manage these barriers interdependently.

“An important aspect when reviewing both design and operational barriers is the crew’s day-to-day focus and emergency preparedness. Procedures for preventing and fighting fires must be in place, and it must be ensured that the crew follows these procedures,” she says.
 
To support crew training initiatives, Kongsberg Maritime has made a number of upgrades to its engineroom training simulators. Kongsberg has developed ControlView, a new Integrated Automation System specially designed for its engineroom and cargo handling simulators. ControlView is based on Kongsberg Maritime’s latest human machine interfaces standard. ControlView is primarily an integrated system that covers the user interface for important remote control and monitor functions such as power management and auxiliary machinery control.

The company has also released an upgraded version of one of the engineroom simulator models, Neptune. The M11 MAK –V (container) model can now be delivered with a full walkthrough virtual engineroom application, which includes an interactive virtual animation of the entire engineroom. Students can 'walk around' in the engine room in a virtual world and operate the machinery systems locally.

The growing use of LNG as bunker fuel will change engineroom safety. Anders Tosseviken, DNV GL principal approval engineer for fire safety and life-saving, says that although LNG as fuel has been around in Norway for more than 10 years, there is no casualty history. DNV GL pioneered the development of safety regulations for LNG, and they are very different from those for liquid fuels, says Mr Tosseviken. 

“There are a lot of measures in place to ensure safe operation with LNG. For example, the requirement for continuous double tubing and increased ventilation,” he says. “With gas, the focus is on mitigating explosion risks, because if you look at ignition temperatures, the gas ignition temperature is much higher than for diesel so you are less likely to have ignition on a hot surface. However, if you have a gas leak and a spark from an electric motor, then you could potentially have an explosion, but only if the gas air mixture is in the ignitable window (5%-15% gas). So, the risks are different and the regulations are different.”

Flooding is another story again, and it received focus when the Emma Maersk container ship had an engineroom flooding incident in February 2013. In this case a stern thruster problem that led to flooding was exacerbated by a substandard bulkhead penetration that enabled the water to enter the engineroom. The incident was dealt with safely by the crew, but it followed industry concerns as a result of the Costa Concordia disaster. 

MSC92 held in June 2013 discussed a working group report on recommendations arising from Costa Concordia. An action plan is being prepared, and Claudio Abbate, head of safety at RINA Services, says there are some important and challenging items being considered.

1. Review and update arrangements for discontinuity between compartments containing ship's essential systems: “This item is relevant to the construction of new (future) passenger ships. The accident suffered by Costa Concordia had, as a consequence of the breach in the hull, flooding of at least four adjacent watertight compartments where vital parts of the power generation and propulsion systems were located,” says Mr Abbate. Therefore it was considered that the current SOLAS requirements do not prohibit the location of vital equipment in adjacent compartment. “In other words, the flooding of two adjacent compartments would not allow the ship, even if built on or after 1 July 2010, to safely return to port under her own power.”

2. Review of criteria for the distribution and capacity of bilge pumps: This item was originally proposed to stimulate the revision of the current requirements for bilge pumps on passenger ships in term of their physical location in respect to the watertight compartments lay-out and new damage stability calculation criteria. “In fact, while the damage stability criteria for passenger ships have been drastically changed since 1 January 2009, with the introduction of the so called 'probabilistic approach' requirements related to the position of bilge pumps along the length of the ship remained unchanged. The discussion on this issue, in the opinion of the original proposers, should try to link the position of bilge pumps with the damage scenarios assumed in the damage stability calculation.”

3. Review of emergency power redundancy for existing ships: This discussion highlighted the need for an additional source of power for systems that are needed during an emergency that involves the loss of the main electrical power source. “It is noted that the industry, or at least part of the cruise industry, has already started to actively work for retrofitting ships with additional emergency generators, intended as back up of the existing emergency source of electrical power but also capable, under certain conditions, to feed those hotel facilities (such as galleys, fresh water productions, vacuum systems etc) needed to adequately support the habitability of the ships.”

The MSC committee will start technical discussions on these issues once they are included in the work programme of sub-committees.

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