While passenger ferry safety in Europe has improved significantly in the 30 years since the Zeebrugge disaster safety concerns persist, says Chris Turberville, Head of Marine Hull & Liabilities, AGCS UK. “Standards of safety are not as high in some parts of Asia as they are elsewhere in the world, while we have also seen fires on board vessels in the Baltic.”
Despite decades of casualties, passenger ferry safety is still a major issue in some parts of Asia. In 2015 there were a string of fatal accidents in China and Myanmar, while some 300 people died in 2014 when the MV Sewol capsized en route from Incheon to Jeju in South Korea.
Passenger ferries in Asia are particularly exposed to typhoons. Meanwhile, in the Philippines and Indonesia, safety is a persistent problem, driven by poor maintenance, weak enforcement of regulations and passenger overcrowding.
Fires on-board ferries are also of growing concern. The International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) recently warned of an alarming over-representation of fires onboard ro-ro ferries [i]. The failure of electrical equipment in cars and trucks on board, as well as undeclared or misdeclared cargo, are believed to be the major causes of such incidents.
The IMO is to review international regulation with a view to minimize the incidence and consequences of fires on ro-ros. An important factor in dealing with such incidents is a rapid response, particularly if a fire occurs on semiopen decks where oxygen can fuel flames.
Fires are also a risk for car carriers, purpose-built vessels used to transport new and used cars between ports. “There is an inherent risk of fire for car carriers and this is a concern given the size of some vessels, which can carry some 5,000 to 6,000 vehicles at one time,” says Turberville.
The nature of car ferries and transporters also means they are vulnerable to stability issues. This was shown by the Hoegh Osaka, a large car carrier that run aground in January 2015 having listed soon after leaving port in Southampton, UK.
“Car carriers and ferries are under immense pressure for port turnaround, but unless the crew carries out stability modelling and checks, there is a risk of instability,” says Turberville.
“Overall, fire, stability and lack of loss prevention are the main factors of concern for ferry vessels,” adds Nicolas Thoreau, Regional Head of Marine Hull, Asia, AGCS. “This is reflected in the majority of claims occuring in Asia, together with natural catastrophe exposure.”
Major fires on container vessels are among the worst hazards in global shipping [i]. During 2016 alone, there were three major fires that required external firefighting assistance: the Maersk Karachi in May, and the CCNI Arauco and the Wan Hai 307 in September. In April 2017, the, 13,800 teu MSC Daniela was on fire for more than a week, 120 nautical miles off the coast of Sri Lanka.
Safety and support systems on board container ships have not kept pace with the increasing size of vessels and numbers of containers, according to Captain Rahul Khanna, Head of Marine Risk Consulting, AGCS. As a result there are now serious concerns for the ability of crew to put out a fire on a container vessel where firefighting equipment proves insufficient.
With many more layers of containers on deck, it is far harder to contain a fire once ignited. The nature of the cargo also makes the use of CO2 ineffective, while
containers contain oxygen which can make fire-fighting even more challenging.
“We need to figure out how to fight fires on board large container ships more effectively, and this could see requirements for new firefighting systems,” says Captain Andrew Kinsey, Senior Marine Risk Consultant, AGCS.
“But first and foremost, there needs to be accurate cargo manifests. If inaccurately documented cargo catches fire, crews do not know the best way to extinguish them.” According to data from the recent International Cargo Handling Coordination Association’s (ICHCA), Dangerous Goods seminar, over a third (39%) of boxes containing dangerous goods are marked incorrectly, while approximately 21% have some other defect [ii]. To illustrate the deadly consequences when dangerous goods are not handled, shipped and stored correctly, we only have to look at the Tianjin explosions, which occurred in China in August, 2015, Kinsey adds. The official investigation found that an overheated container of nitrocellulose was the cause of the initial explosion that led to a much larger explosion.
“Vessel size and fire regulation is a big concern,” adds Turberville. “Safety regulation is driven by the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), but this is concerned with the safety of the crew and not the vessel. Safety of life is paramount, but we would also like to see safety systems developed to take more account of the preservation of the vessel itself.”