The Swedish Club: Don’t overlook the risk of cargo fires

Cargo fires occur so infrequently that awareness of the risk can slip under the radar. Yet such an incident onboard a vessel can have disastrous consequences including loss of life or catastrophic loss of the vessel involved. With the average cost of a cargo fire at several million US Dollars, cargo fires are not a risk to be overlooked.

The Swedish Club, working in conjunction with Burgoynes, experts specialising in the investigation of fires, explosions and other major incidents, has produced a handbook, ‘Fire! A guide to the causes and prevention of cargo fires’, which can be used alongside the regulations to assist seafarers in their daily loss prevention efforts.

‘Fire!’ offers loss prevention advice on a number of incidents – focusing specifically on self-heating cargoes, but also examining those vessel fires caused by other sources such as cargo hold lights, fumigation, movement of cargo and of course smoking and hot work.  It also highlights how different vessel types fare when the frequency of cargo fires is compared. Tanker figures are found to be relatively low, a testament to the tight regulation and safety culture that exists in this industry. On the other hand ro-ro figures are surprisingly high due to the non-homogeneous nature of the cargo they carry.

Lars A. Malm, The Swedish Club’s Director Strategic Business Development & Client Relations, is clear about the importance of the guide: “When a fire breaks out onboard a vessel there is no fire service ready to assist in extinguishing it – that is up to the crew themselves. All those who have worked onboard a vessel are aware of the difficulties involved with managing a fire and the crucial importance of fire prevention.”

Burgoynes Partner Neil Sanders, explained: “Self-heating and related issues can affect a wide variety of cargoes including coal, iron in the form of direct reduced iron (DRI), metal turnings, charcoal, seed cake, biomass, fertilisers, solid chemicals and liquid chemicals. Whilst the full relevant International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code (IMSBC) or International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code (IMDG) requirements must always be understood and followed, ‘Fire!’ is aimed at supporting that understanding and providing valuable support to the seafarer.”