Interferry Reviews Fire Safety Lessons

Norman Atlantic

By MarEx 2015-10-19 14:44:37

Firefighting led a stream of topical debate at trade association Interferry’s 40th annual conference in Copenhagen earlier this month. A series of presentations on fire safety started with an update on the investigation into last December’s fire on the ro-pax vessel Norman Atlantic, when at least 18 died on a crossing from Greece to Italy.

Fabio Croccolo, head of Italy’s marine investigations directorate, stressed that the final report was not due until Christmas, but the most likely cause looked like abnormal demand on electricity supply for trailers. The blaze spread throughout the ship from vehicle deck 4 - where the average temperature soared to an estimated 1,000oC – and left some lifesaving equipment destroyed or inaccessible, leading to a call for enhanced passive protection.  

Other possible causes included a reefer unit electrical fault and unauthorised use of heating and cooking equipment by truck drivers or stowaways staying illicitly on the vehicle deck, which Croccolo said should be countered by frequent patrols and use of CCTV.  

He added that propagation of the fire was assisted by the deck’s large side windows and open stern, which allowed the smoke plume to be diverted away from smoke detectors in winds of at least 40 knots. He suggested that semi-open cargo spaces should not be permitted on ropax newbuilds, encouraged development of an emergency system to seal open spaces on existing tonnage and also advocated the fitting of thermal detection systems.  

In addition, investigators had found that the wrong drencher system valves were opened – for deck 3 rather than deck 4 – and some trucks had not been properly lashed. Croccolo observed that the shipowner had supplied the Italian deck and engine crew but lashing and other “commercial actions” were performed by the charterer’s Greek crew on what was only their third voyage on the vessel. He urged a “one crew from the same company” manning policy to reduce familiarisation and language problems on charters and also said a minimum distance between vehicles should be considered.    

Fabio Croccolo – Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport, Italy                    

Paolo Moretti, general manager marine at classification society RINA, recalled that open ro-ro spaces had been introduced in 1981 to help facilitate the safe carriage of livestock and certain dangerous goods. Confirming that wind posed a major threat to the performance of heat, smoke and flame detectors and water spray systems, he said RINA had introduced a condition based monitoring system including hot spot assessment in machinery areas and electrical equipment surveys in ro-ro spaces.    

Paolo Moretti – RINA, Italy            

Anders Tosseviken, principal approval engineer in DNV GL’s fire safety and lifesaving section, noted that cargo rather than ship systems was the main cause of vehicle deck fires, with 80 percent of incidents linked to reefer units. Tests had shown that fire intensity rose from 3MW on one car to almost 40MW across 13 cars within 15 minutes. “At this level it is really difficult for firefighters,” he warned. “In short you have five to ten minutes to react before you’re gone.” Regular crew training involving realistic scenarios with unexpected events was vital.

Anders Tosseviken – DNV GL, Norway

Paul Nichols, a Lloyd’s Register lead specialist in passenger ship newbuild support, explained the EU-funded industry wide Lynceus project to develop unobtrusive tracking of people in an emergency. A bracelet-mounted location sensor could also monitor conditions such as heartbeat to help prioritise assistance, and a lifejacket sensor could be detected by an unmanned aerial vehicle. The three-year, €3.3 million first phase of the project was completed in April and now a €10.5m second phase involving 16 partners is working to bring the concept to market via demonstrations on large ships.  

 Paul Nichols – Lloyd’s Register, UK                   

Tommy Hertzberg, fire research section manager at Sweden’s SP Technical Research Institute, discussed the use of lightweight fibre reinforced polymer composites instead of steel within ship structures. Based on proposals for the conversion of two Stena Line ferries, he said the weight of top level superstructure could be halved. With a self-extinguishing surface, composites offered much better fire containment properties than steel but were more prone to structural collapse. Initial cost was higher but could be set against advantages such as easier repair or replacement after a fire.  

Tommy Hertzberg – SP Technical Research Institute, Sweden

Roberto Havier Herbon, managing director of Australia’s CBG Systems, revealed: “In 2014, 75 large ships were lost worldwide and fire was the third cause after collision and foundering.  We have to think outside the square and invest for those incidents with very low probability but very high impact.” His company offered a lightweight panellised passive fire containment solution as an alternative to traditional fibrous blankets wrapped around beams and stiffeners.

Roberto Javier Herbon – CBG Systems, Australia