Maersk has implemented new guidelines for the stowage of dangerous goods to improve fleet safety after a serious fire incident onboard one of its container vessels earlier this year.
According to Maersk, it conducted a thorough review of current safety practices and policies in the stowage of dangerous cargo, evaluating over 3,000 United Nations numbers of hazardous materials in order to further understand and improve dangerous cargo stowage onboard container vessels. The company developed a new set of principles called Risk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage and, together with the American Bureau of Shipping, called for a workshop with other industry stakeholders to conduct a comprehensive hazard identification study to validate the new guidelines.
These guidelines have now been implemented across Maersk Line’s fleet of more than 750 vessels. The Risk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage principles have also been presented to the International Maritime Organization and the Danish Maritime Authorities.
Five crew members lost their lives in March 2018 as a result of a serious fire which occurred on Maersk Line’s Maersk Honam in the Indian Ocean. The crew managed to release the vessel’s CO2 system into the cargo hold but that did not stop the fire. While the vessel was carrying dangerous goods in the cargo hold where the fire originated, there is currently no evidence to suggest that the dangerous goods themselves caused the fire.
“All cargo aboard Maersk Honam was accepted as per the requirements of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and stowed onboard the vessel accordingly,” said Ole Graa Jakobsen, head of fleet technology at Maersk. “Despite this, as the fire originated in a cargo hold in front of the accommodation which held several containers with dangerous goods, it had an unbearably tragic outcome. This clearly showed us that the international regulations and practices with regards to dangerous goods stowage need to be reviewed in order to optimally protect crew, cargo, environment and vessels.”
Maersk’s Risk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage principles have been developed with the aim of minimizing risk to crew, cargo, environment and vessel in case a fire develops. The different container vessel designs were reviewed from a risk mitigation perspective and six different risk zones were ultimately defined.
Cargo covered under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code will no longer be stowed next to accommodation and main propulsion plants, the zones with the lowest risk tolerance. Risk tolerance is similarly low below deck and in the middle of the vessel, whereas the tolerance is higher on deck fore and aft. Based on statistics on container fires in the Cargo Incident Notification System, Maersk defined which UN numbers can be safely stored in each risk zone.
“Container ship fires are a problem for our entire industry and we intend to share and discuss our learnings from this thorough review within relevant industry forums,” said Jakobsen. “We very much believe that discussions, views and insights among container carriers can further improve fire safety in our industry. We aim for long-term improvements by reviewing our systems and then designing an end-to-end process that is safe for our seafarers and smooth for our customers.”
A review aimed at creating best management practices for dangerous goods stowage will be undertaken with participation from ABS, Lloyds Register, the International Group of PandI Clubs, National Cargo Bureau, the TT Club and Exis Technologies in the coming months. These best management practices will then be published and presented to the International Maritime Organization, according to Maersk.