Maritime insurers have once again called for a drastic improvement in fire protection on containerships, and urge countries to press for change in international regulations at the IMO.

Despite publishing new guidance for fire prevention on box ships two years ago, in response to a series of deadly shipboard blazes, this year has seen no let-up in the number of catastrophic incidents: Yantian Express, APL Vancouver, Grande America, ER Kobe and KMTC Hong Kong were all fire-related casualties this year.

At a recent conference in Arendal, Norway, organised by marine insurer and P&I club Gard, attended by the IMO, flag states, shipowners, salvors, class and insurers, the International Union of Marine Insurance (IUMI) strengthened its position.

Helle Hammer, chair of IUMI’s Policy Forum, explained: “Fire-fighting capabilities onboard containerships are deficient and we need to see more headway to improve the safety of the crew, the environment, the cargo and the ships themselves.

“Mis- and non-declaration of cargo has serious safety implications and is the root cause behind these tragic incidents.

“There is agreement among experts that the current means of controlling a fire in the cargo hold are of little effect. The safety objectives set out in SOLAS do not seem to be met and, in light of the various recent casualties, the time for action is now,” she said.

IUMI said it had “raised its concerns and received support from various quarters” during the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee meeting in June and is calling for additional support from flag administrations and other stakeholders to bring the issue to IMO’s agenda in 2020.

“Our position paper recommends firefighting systems should be arranged to segregate the ship into fire compartments, where the fire can be isolated to prevent it from spreading. Onboard systems could then cool the containers and allow them to burn out in a controlled manner,” Ms Hammer said.

“Fixed monitors to adequately attack the fire and improved fire detection system are further measures proposed to allow for an appropriate response mechanism.

“Better prevention measures must also address the concerning rise in cargo misdeclaration. We are encouraged to see larger carriers already beginning to crack down on this problem.”

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