Self-unloading bulk carrier fire highlights inadequate international fire safety standards and regulations

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Australian Transportation Safety Board investigators said a five-day fire aboard a self-unloading bulk carrier in the port of Kembla in 2018 highlighted the lack of adequate regulatory requirements and standards to make faced with the known risk of fire on board the self-unloading. ships.

The fire on the Australian-flagged Iron Chieftain began as the vessel unloaded a cargo of dolomite at Port Kembla in New South Wales on June 18, 2018. Friction, likely due to a failed bearing, generated enough heat to ignite a rubber conveyor belt in the C-Loop internal cargo handling space, according to the ATSB.

A crew member detected a strange odor and white smoke that suddenly turned black as the crew member approached the door of the deck box for the C loop space. The ship’s crew triggered an emergency response, but efforts on board the ship to contain the fire were ineffective, spreading outside the ship to the discharge boom. The ship’s crew were eventually evacuated and firefighters from Fire and Rescue New South Wales (FRNSW) took charge of the response.

The fire was brought under control and finally extinguished about five days later.

Although there were no serious injuries or marine pollution as a result of the fire, the fire caused significant structural damage to the ship, including breaches in two oil tanks, and much of it of the self-unloading system was destroyed. The Iron Chieftain was declared a total loss before being towed to Turkey for recycling.

“The fire on board the Iron Chieftain demonstrates how the effectiveness of a shipboard fire response depends primarily on the ability to detect fire at an early stage and ‘turn off quickly at the source,’ said ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood. Iron Chieftain’s self-unloading system was not equipped with a fixed fire detection or extinguishing system in the C-Loop space, but neither was it have to be. “

Hood said the incident highlighted the lack of adequate international standards or regulations for fire detection and fixed fire extinguishing systems in cargo handling spaces of self-unloading bulk carriers.

The ATSB investigation report also noted that the crew’s initial emergency response, particularly the shutdown of conveyor belts, helped the fire develop as the heat could not dissipate. .

“After ignition, the combination of high fuel loads in the form of rubber conveyor belts in the C-Loop space and the airflow from the vertical design of the loop and its ventilation fans, has allowed the fire to establish quickly and move along the C-Loop. Rubber conveyor belt system on the outside of the ship up to the deck unloading boom and turn it on, ”Hood said.

Additionally, heat from the fire in the C-Loop space caused thermal stresses, cracks and deformations to adjacent heavy fuel tanks, freeing up additional fuel for the fire and increasing its intensity and complexity. .

“The ATSB recommends the introduction and improvement of international standards for appropriate fire detection and extinguishing systems in cargo handling spaces of self-unloading bulk carriers and the introduction of standards for the fire resistance properties of their conveyor belts, ”said Hood. .

According to the ATSB, the absence of these measures contributed to at least three major fires on board ships over a 25-year period, including that of Iron Chieftain.

Hood said the ATSB welcomes the commitment of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) and Lloyd’s Register to approach the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Association of Classification Societies (IACS), respectively. , in order to highlight the safety issue regarding the inadequacy of fires. safety standards or regulations for the spaces of the self-unloading system.

“Nonetheless, the ATSB recommends that AMSA formally raise the safety issue with IMO to initiate safety measures aimed at addressing the risk of fire in the cargo handling spaces of self-unloading bulk carriers due to the inadequacy of current standards and associated regulations, “he said.

Furthermore, the investigation notes that while the operators of Iron Chieftain had identified the risk of fire in the cargo handling space of the vessel due to the lack of fire detection and extinguishing systems. Fixed, especially in the C-Loop space, about five years ago, the prevention and remedial measures it put in place were not sufficient to mitigate the risk.

In response to the Iron Chieftain fire, the operator’s parent company, the CSL Group, initiated a fire risk mitigation project across its global fleet of self-unloading bulk carriers to ” improve fire detection and extinguishing technology, revising its firefighting policy and establishing minimum fire safety. standards for early detection and extinguishing of fires at the design and construction stage of ships.

The ATSB also identified a safety issue related to the marine firefighting capability of Fire and Rescue New South Wales as well as other safety factors related to the inconsistent conduct of ship drills and response plans. emergency port of Port Kembla.

Read the full report: MO-2018-011 Fire aboard the Iron Chieftain, Port Kembla, NSW, June 18, 2018


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