Technology can play a major role in preventing engineroom fires becoming blazing infernos
Virtual training and engineroom monitoring systems could help shipowners avoid fires and teach seafarers how to respond more rapidly to heat or oil leak issues.
These were some of the issues experts discussed at Riviera Maritime Media’s Engineroom design, crew training and fire safety webinar, held 26 July during Riviera’s Marine Propulsion Webinar Week.
On the panel, Swedish Club senior technical advisor Peter Stålberg explained how costly engineroom fires can be and Columbia Ship Management (CSM) training manager Reza Akbari Alashti described how poor maintenance levels and gaps in crew training are the root causes for many engineroom fires.
Attendees of the webinar were asked a series of poll questions for their thoughts on a range of issues concerning engineroom fire avoidance and response. In one poll, 40% agreed virtual fire drills and training would be considered effective tools in the maritime industry within 10 years, and another 28% strongly agreed. Just 16% disagreed, 4% strongly disagreed and 12% sat on the fence.
Mr Stålberg said any technology that can reduce fire risk would lower insurance payouts. He told delegates engineroom fires resulted, on average, in around US$485,000 per insurance claim, but they were infrequent.
“Of the 3,500 hull and machinery claims, only 94 were for fires and explosions. They are low in frequency, but very costly,” he said. Swedish Club had paid out US$2.2M in total for engineroom fire damage over a 12-month period.
Costs of repairing damage can be cut through rapid response by well-trained crew. If a fire is tackled within 10 minutes, costs incurred could be US$200,000, but this rises to US$2M for a 20-minute response time, said Mr Stålberg. “There is a 10-fold increase in costs.”
He recommended better crew training for using fire-fighting systems and increasing the frequency of fire drills through virtual training and simulators to augment physical learning methods as seafarers “need the right safety culture and mindset” to improve safety.
Mr Alashti said crew need good training, frequent fire drills and strong communications equipment to tackle fires effectively. “Virtual fire drills and training can mean faster responses,” he said. “It gets people involved and develops better awareness and familiarisation with ships. Situation awareness is important.”
He said seafarers must be better aware of the safety plan, procedures and location of fire-tackling equipment. CSM is looking at developing virtual training for fire-fighting.
“We need to encourage gamification for fire drill training as it gets them asking questions and showing interest,” said Mr Alashti. “It is a good idea to develop.”
Part of this is creating a safety culture on ships and enabling seafarers to practice scenarios safely to reduce fire risk.
Mr Alashti expects shipping to develop more automatic methods of tackling fires to reduce the risk of crew injury. “Autonomous and unmanned fire-fighting would be useful,” he said. Monitoring and detecting fires could mean handling them faster without human intervention.
He would welcome programs and software to raise the “level of monitoring” but thinks such systems would require thorough assessment and class approvals. “Early warnings would be good to consider and simulators would work for training real-time scenarios of engineroom fires.”
In other poll questions, attendees were asked what they considered to be the main challenges in dealing with engineroom fires. 41% of respondents said it was the presence of fuel or lubricant oil, 36% voted for complexity of the location, 18% thought high temperature of the surroundings and 4% the risk of getting stuck.
In another question, they were asked the most effective way to prevent engineroom fires. To which, 33% said maintaining electrical and mechanical systems, 29% thought properly cleaning surfaces in enginerooms, 21% voted for promoting a safety culture, 13% said enhancing training and 4% maintaining fire detection systems.
Around 37% of webinar attendees had experienced an engineroom fire, while 63% had not.
Attendees were asked whether they felt confident operating fixed fire extinguishing systems on vessels. 29% said they had absolute confidence; 48% were reasonably confident; 19% were neutral on the question; and just 4% had no confidence.
The expert panel for Riviera Maritime Media’s engineroom design, crew training and fire safety webinar were: (left-to-right) Columbia Ship Management training manager Reza Akbari Alashti and The Swedish Club senior technical advisor Peter Stålberg