Reducing the Cost of Fire and Explosion Investigations


By MarEx 2016-11-05 19:40:56

When a fire or explosion occurs on a vessel at sea or in a port, the primary concern must be to ensure the safety, first and foremost, of the crew and others on board, extinguish the fire and minimize the damage to the vessel and the cargo. However, steps that are taken after safety is assured are also vital, and often mishandled. Dave Myers, Associate and Fire Investigator at Brookes Bell Group, reports:

From small, manageable, fires to larger explosion and combustion cases, the risk of explosion and fire on board is something all shipowners and operators should be aware of. In some circumstances, fires and explosions can occur extremely rapidly during the same chaotic event, with fires causing explosions, and explosions causing fires. There are a wide number of causes that can lead to an explosion or fire in the marine environment. Amid such complex scenarios, those investigating the cause of a fire or explosion often have just one opportunity to get the investigation right, and this opportunity is often time-limited. 

Market conditions impacting investigation techniques 

All parties with an interest in an incident, including shipowners, ship managers, operators, charterers and sub charterers, risk serious financial and legal disadvantage if investigations are not carried out correctly. As a result of the ever-increasing financial pressures faced by the shipping industry, many who have suffered a loss or casualty resort to initial cost saving efforts, often appointing local surveyors or inexperienced investigators in place of a more qualified and experienced expert. 

While this approach may seem to offer a saving in the short term, in the long term it often presents poor value for money and is a false economy. This is because inexperienced investigators, despite their best intentions, can lack the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out a fire or explosion investigation to the high standards required. 

Assembling the right team

Once a fire or explosion incident has been managed, a key task is to determine at the earliest possible stage the correct chronological sequence of events which, if established, can set the investigation on the right path from the beginning. During this initial response, a properly equipped, trained and experienced team of investigators with a keen eye for detail should be mobilized. This team should correctly identify, evaluate, collect, process and analyze evidence in a timely manner, as well as managing the scene and all individuals in attendance. 

Fires and explosions are not simple matters; they can occur within very complex systems on board a vessel. Investigators working to determine the cause of an incident can benefit significantly from the support of a highly skilled and qualified multi-disciplinary team. Ship fires and explosions may require the expertise of, for example, marine engineers, metallurgists, fuel chemists and cargo scientists, as well as, of course, fire and explosion investigation proficiency.

In addition to this multi-disciplinary team of experts, there may also be surveyors and other personnel representing various interested parties and authorities attending the scene. This all needs to be managed effectively to ensure the scene is not compromised and only appropriate and accurate information is provided to other attending interested parties.  

The cost of poor evidence 

A best practice approach to fire and explosion investigation is critical in determining the cause of an incident. If an investigation is initiated effectively from the start, this can help prevent the change or loss of invaluable evidence, something that can be difficult, or even impossible, to rectify at a later date.  

This, in turn, can have a significant implication on the outcome of the investigation. For example, if an investigator does not identify critical evidence, or fails to collect evidence appropriately, their investigation may not add probative value if a case proceeds to litigation. As legal proceedings are likely to begin months, or even years after the event, the opportunity to collect additional evidence has often passed before errors in an investigation are discovered. 

In addition to this, the collection of inaccurate or inconclusive evidence may necessitate a new expert to review the investigation. These costs will be in addition to the costs associated with appointing the surveyor or inexperienced investigator who was not ultimately able to provide the service required by the client or during legal proceedings. 

Reducing long-term costs

Although the initial cost may seem higher, appointing a qualified, recognized and experienced fire investigation team from the outset of an investigation is likely to offer significantly better value for money. The collection, preservation, and analysis of all necessary evidence, managing all parties in attendance at an incident, and presenting evidence clearly and accurately in court is essential to streamline the investigation process and therefore minimize long term costs. A qualified, experienced and multi-disciplinary team is likely to be the quickest route to a successful result. 

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.