The London P&I Club said the response to two recent onboard cargo fires has highlighted the value of both fire-fighting training and realistic shipboard drills for ships’ crews.
In the latest issue of its StopLoss Bulletin, the club refers to a case where smoke was seen by the crew of a containership to be escaping from a container stuffed with bone meal in bulk. The crew quickly established the best means of fighting a fire involving that commodity and then executed a well-drilled plan to extinguish the fire by flooding the container using a fire-fighting lance connected to a fire hose. The lance was introduced into the box through a hole which the crew punctured in the roof of the container. The same technique was deployed when the bone meal inside a second container also started to self-heat.
By contrast, another crew’s response to a fire in cotton bales loaded in a tweendecker was significantly less effective. While the master’s decision to deploy the CO2 fixed fire-fighting system was fully compliant with the IMDG Code recommendations, the crew’s failure to ensure that the cargo space was sealed before releasing the gas rendered the CO2 wholly ineffective. The master subsequently sent the fire team into the cargo spaces to fight the fire with hoses. Unfortunately, one of the fire team apparently became disoriented in the thick smoke, suggesting that he had not received adequate training in fire-fighting techniques. He fell from the tweendeck level to the tank top, sustaining severe injuries.
The club notes, “Whereas the operators of the containership had a well-developed training programme, which included realistic drills on a range of different fire types and locations, there was no such prudent practice in place on the other ship. Owners must be aware of their obligations to conduct regular and realistic onboard emergency drills to the requirements of the flag state, SOLAS Convention and as provided for under the ISM Code Section 8 Emergency Preparedness.”