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Shipping Industry Grapples with Ways to Cut Cargo Fires at Sea

Maritime Activity Reports, Inc.

February 21, 2023

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid along with other chemicals and cosmetics, was anchored off Sri Lanka's west coast when a fire erupted onboard after an explosion on May 20, 2021. (Photo: Sri Lanka Coast Guard)

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid along with other chemicals and cosmetics, was anchored off Sri Lanka's west coast when a fire erupted onboard after an explosion on May 20, 2021. (Photo: Sri Lanka Coast Guard)

Global shipping companies are exploring ways to boost safety in transporting cargoes as risks grow from fires erupting inside containers or in cars at sea, officials said on Wednesday.

Shipping transports around 90% of world trade onboard different vessels including container and Ro-Ro ships with trade routes getting busier.

In a new initiative, leading carriers Evergreen Line of Taiwan, South Korea's HMM, Denmark's Maersk, Germany's Offen Group, Singapore's ONE (Ocean Network Express), Hong Kong's Seaspan as well as British ship certifier Lloyd's Register said they are looking into feasibility studies to understand how cargo is loaded and also monitored at sea, as well as finding solutions to detect fire onboard ships and speed up ways to stop it spreading.

"The priority for the first challenge area is to provide earliest indication of a fire incident, thus allowing the appropriate onboard responses to prevent the occurrence of large fires and loss," Rich McLoughlin, program director for the cargo fire and loss innovation initiative, told Reuters.

"The initiative seeks to provide proof-points that emerging tech may be used to improve response times over the existing regulatory requirements, leading to enhanced vessel safety."

In its 2022 safety and shipping review, analysis by major insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty showed there had been over 70 reported fires on board container ships alone in the past five years, with growing risks faced by car carriers transporting electric vehicles using batteries.

"The main root cause for cargo fires on container ships is the integrity of dangerous goods throughout the supply chain. Therefore it is a problem that can only be improved through industry wide solutions," Maersk's Aslak Ross said separately in a statement.


(Reuters - Reporting by Jonathan Saul; Editing by Mark Potter)

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