Containership and RoRo fires at 8th session of IMO’s Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE 8)

By Hendrike Kühl, IUMI Policy Director

The 8th session of the Sub-Committee on Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE 8) took place virtually from 28 February to 4 March 2022 and was chaired by Umut Şentürk from Turkey. Its agenda included both containership fire safety and fires on ro-ro ships – more timely than ever in light of the fire incidences of the Euroferry Olympia and Felicity Ace which emphasise the compelling need to adopt provisions to minimise the risks on these types of ships.

IUMI used this occasion to reiterate the importance of the Sub-Committee’s work to address containership fire safety by holding a presentation on this urgent issue. Mikkel Gardner Andersen from Codan Insurance and a member of IUMI's Loss Prevention Committee outlined the importance of taking a holistic approach on regulatory actions. Any amendments need to cover all angles, including improved fire protection and detection measures which keep pace with the growing size of the vessels as well as risk prevention to avoid mis-declaration of dangerous cargoes.

Mikkel further discussed the challenge of the existing fleet of container vessels which will not fall under the scope of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) amendments to be considered by the SSE Sub-Committee. During his presentation Mikkel referred to data from Cefor, the Nordic Association of Marine Insurers, which indicate that while the overall claims frequency has declined over the past 15 years, the percentage of fires and explosions has been on the rise. The slide deck can be downloaded HERE.

IUMI has been a central player pushing for the inclusion of this issue on the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) agenda. The Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) last May approved the “Development of amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2 and the FSS Code concerning detection and control of fires in cargo holds and on the cargo deck of containerships”. These amendments will be applicable to newbuild ships. The SSE Sub-Committee was requested to work on this topic. In the run-up to SSE 8, IUMI has been highly engaged via an IUMI-led expert group consisting of representatives from Flag States, shipowners, class and many other maritime stakeholders. The group worked on a joint paper to be submitted to SSE 8. The document outlines a road map as a basis for the further work and offered an initial assessment of gaps and regulations which are considered neither practicable nor workable for fire detection and fire-fighting capabilities on board containerships.

At the same time, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is undertaking a “Study Investigating Cost Efficient Measures for Reducing the Risk from Cargo Fires on Container Vessels (CARGOSAFE)”. It includes the tasks of hazard identification, risk analysis, risk control options, cost effectiveness assessment, and making recommendations for decision making. The structure of the study is in line with the IMO requirements for a formal safety assessment (FSA). The results of CARGOSAFE and any other FSA based study were agreed by SSE 8 to be included in a review by an FSA Expert Group. The establishment of this group will have to be approved by the MSC. Once all FSA based studies have been assessed by the FSA Expert Group, the SSE Sub-Committee can truly start its work to discuss risk control options for newbuilds. IUMI will continue to engage in these deliberations with the objective to bring about major improvements for containership safety.  

In relation to the work on roro fires, the Sub-Committee continued to review SOLAS chapter II-2 and associated codes to minimise the incidence and consequences of fires on ro-ro spaces and special category spaces of new and existing ro-ro passenger ships. A working group was established to consider a range of technical issues related to the proposed amendments. While the group made progress on several aspects, it was agreed to reestablish the Correspondence Group on Fire Protection to continue the work intersessionally. Among other issues, the group will discuss fixed water-based extinguishing systems and linear heat detection systems.

In addition to monitoring the ongoing work on roro fires at the IMO, IUMI has also recently become a member of an advisory group to LASHFIRE, an international research project aimed at reducing the risk of fires on board roro vessels which concludes in 2023.