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23 February 2024 - Year XXVIII
Independent journal on economy and transport policy
05:57 GMT+1
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CENTRO INTERNAZIONALE STUDI CONTAINERSANNO XXXVIII - Numero OTTOBRE 2020

DANGEROUS CARGO

DANGEROUS CARGO PROBABLY CAUSED MAERSK HONAM FATAL BOXSHIP FIRE, SAY INVESTIGATORS

"Singapore investigative body calls for better efforts to screen hazardous goods after tracing likely cause of 2018 disaster to a compound capable of self-igniting stored under containership's deck ."

A DANGEROUS cargo was probably the cause of a fatal fire on board a Maersk containership, an investigation has con-cluded.

Five seafarers died following the incident on the 15,262 teu Maersk Honam in March 2018.

The Singapore-flagged vessel was en route from Singapore to Suez with 7,860 containers when the fire started.

A report following the inquiry by Singapore's Transport Safety Investigation Bureau has been published this month.

It said that while the extent of the damage meant that the fin-dings into the cause of the fire were inconclusive, it was "possible" that the stowage of 54 containers containing a chemi-cal used in bleaches and cleaning products was the ultimate sour-ce.

Decomposition of the dangerous cargo generated intense heat, enabling the fire to develop rapidly out of control.

"It is possible that one or more containers in number three cargo hold [containing sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate] were compromised by self-decomposition of the SDID," the bu-reau's final 98-page report found.

"The block stowage of the SDID further exacerbated the rate of reaction and heat production, which resulted in an uncontrollable spread of the fire."

The temperature at which exothermic decomposition was initia-ted was much lower than the values typically declared by the shipper, and the presence of free water and / or stowage of the SDID in large packages or consignments leads to further sub-stantial depression of the onset temperature, the report said.

"Given the susceptibility of SDID to exothermic decomposition in the presence of free water or impurities, serious consideration must be given to the prospect that the decomposition could be initiated as a direct result of the inherent properties of the cargo itself," it said.

AP Moller-Maersk chief technical officer Palle Laursen said the fire was "one of the most serious incidents'' in the company's history.

"The magnitude and intensity of this fire made it impossible for any crew to successfully contain, making it key that we as an industry take steps to address the root cause to ensure seafarers never find themselves in a similar situation," he said following the report's publication.

The International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code allows for the classification and carriage of sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate under Class 9, which does not recognise the potential thermal instability of the material.

The report said the chemical compound was stowed under-deck, where the main fixed firefighting means was CO2 "which is ineffective to tackle fires associated with such materials."

Raising alarm

It also found weaknesses in the initial emergency response to the fire.

"It was noted that the fire alarm was not raised at the onset of the event, causing a delay in the closure of the magnetic fire doors of the accommodation, and non-closure of exterior ventilation vents."

Moreover, the muster list did not clearly identify the roles of everyone on board, which resulted in some of the crew waiting to be given instructions.

The investigation also found that the firefighting flow charts under the ship emergency response plan did not ensure that all the ventilator flaps and dampers on board were closed as one of the primary firefighting actions, regardless of the location of fire.

When toxic gases entered the bridge, chaos started to develop, causing the formation of different groups. Radio communication was lost with the smaller groups.

"The master's action to abandon ship with group one, after ma-king reasonable attempts to reach out to the other crew on wal-kie-talkie was considered plausible," the report said.

The TSIB noted that industry-wide issues still exist in the cargo booking process for dangerous goods.

"Although there was no evidence of a mis-declared cargo that led to the fire in number three cargo hold, the investigation team noted that the current cargo screening process in the industry is not able to ensure declarations by shippers, which are based on trust, match the description of the cargo in the container, as such a process could be too onerous and labour-intensive if carried out manually."

Maersk has now banned the stowage of IMDG containers imme-diately forward and aft of the accommodation and engine casing for twin-island ships, and has reviewed emergency response procedures.

"The main safety recommendations in the report have already been implemented across the fleet over the past two years and we will be studying the report further to understand how to best make use of the recommendations," Aslak Ross, the company's head of marine standards, said in a statement.

Mr Laursen said the company was "devastated that five col-leagues lost their lives and that five families lost their loved ones''.

"We hope this investigation will initiate a more holistic, indu-stry-wide approach where we address the concerns regarding containerised dangerous goods across the entire supply chain - starting at the manufacturing level and following through until the box has been safely delivered at destination to the customer," he said.

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