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Maersk Honam fire causes inconclusive, report exposes regulatory limitations

THE final report into the tragic fire on board the Maersk Honam in March 2018 that killed five crew has concluded that safety systems onboard the 15,000-TEU vessel were insufficient to combat the blaze and the regulations governing the stowage of dangerous goods contributed to the fire

22 October 2020 - 19:00

THE final report into the tragic fire on board the Maersk Honam in March 2018 that killed five crew has concluded that safety systems onboard the 15,000-TEU vessel were insufficient to combat the blaze and the regulations governing the stowage of dangerous goods contributed to the fire.

However, Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) at the Ministry of Transport in its report concluded that the causes of the initial ignition of the cargo may never be known.



The vessel, which was delivered to the Danish shipping giant at the end of August, 2017, less than six months before the fire, had left Singapore after loading boxes, crucially 204 containers into cargo hold number 3, where the fire was to first break out.



According to the report much of the evidence into the causes of the fire was destroyed so it is 'it is not possible to conclusively determine the cause of the fire.'



However, the master reported that there was a smell of chlorine, as he made his way to the bridge from his cabin at the time but could not see any smoke.



Amongst the cargo loaded onboard, the cargo within bay 3 included a container of Sodium Dichloroisocyanurate Dihydrate (SDID) - which is classified under Class 9 in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. Class 9 is a coverall class, effectively SDID is registered under the miscellaneous section.



The report explains SDID is an active ingredient in dry bleaches, dishwashing compounds, scouring powder detergent sanitisers, swimming pool disinfectants, water, and sewage treatment.



SDID contains a chlorine content of 56 per cent and it is this that is thought to have been the cause of the chlorine smells reported by a number of crew.



In its conclusions the TSIB said, 'The investigation revealed that the secondary hazards of chemical decomposition/ instability of SDID had not been identified in the IMDG4 Code. This is because SDID was classified under Class 9 in the IMDG Code, instead of the more stringent Class 5.1 (oxidising substances), despite having similar chemical properties as those in Class 5.1.'



The report went on to say that, 'The special provisions (SP135) within the IMDG Code allows for the classification and carriage of SDID under Class 9 (UN No.3077), thus not recognising the potential thermal instability of this material, possibly as a result of legacy carriage requirements recognised nearly 40 years prior. As a result, despite these secondary hazards, SDID was stowed under-deck where the main means of fixed firefighting in this area was CO2, which was ineffective to tackle fires associated with such materials.'



Acknowledging the gap in the regulations, the report added, 'Noting the secondary hazards presented by SDID, which are not captured in the current provisions of the IMDG Code, the provisions in the IMDG Code would need to be reviewed. In the interim, appropriate measures, similar to those adopted for calcium hypochlorite as identified by CINS could be considered for adoption.'



In addition to the inadequate regulations regarding stowage the Singapore investigation found that SDID as an oxidiser 'required the use of abundant water, which could not have been achieved promptly, given the existing statutory requirements for firefighting measures for container fires under-deck.'



Recognising the inadequacy of the mandated firefighting equipment on board modern container ships, Captain Amarinder Singh Brar, a former container ship master and now an Associate with London Offshore Consultants, said that the regulations were over 30 years out of date for the latest generation of containerships.


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