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Shipping industry stakeholders unite to cut cargo fires at sea

Caro shipping takes care of around 90% of global trade through different vessels including container and Ro-Ro ships

Global shipping companies are reportedly exploring ways to boost cargo safety amid rising risks from fires erupting inside containers or in cars at sea.

Caro shipping takes care of around 90% of global trade through different vessels including container and Ro-Ro ships.

Leading carriers Evergreen Line of Taiwan, South Korea’s HMM, Denmark’s Maersk, Germany’s Offen Group, Singapore’s ONE (Ocean Network Express), Hong Kong’s Seaspan as well and British ship certifier Lloyd’s Register are now looking into feasibility studies to understand how cargo is loaded and monitored at sea, apart from finding solutions to improve detection and faster prevention of fires onboard these container ships.

The Safetytech Accelerator ‘Cargo Fire & Loss Innovation Initiative’ (CFLII) is a collaborative technology acceleration program which is aimed to address the issue by shaping joint requirements, identifying technology solutions, undertaking carefully designed trials, and developing best industrial practices and recommendations.

The Initiative has three significant topics of concern. The first one is related to onboard cargo control, including whether cargo has been properly loaded, secured, and monitored during transit. The second aspect covers the ability to detect fire onboard and stop its spread through effective onboard responses, particularly on large container ships and car carriers. The third one deals with the challenges created by the increasing scale of vessels.

“The priority for the first challenge area is to provide earliest indication of a fire incident, thus allowing the appropriate onboard responses to prevent the occurrence of large fires and loss,” Rich McLoughlin, programme director for the cargo fire and loss innovation initiative, told Reuters.

“The initiative seeks to provide proof-points that emerging tech may be used to improve response times over the existing regulatory requirements, leading to enhanced vessel safety,” the official remarked.

In its 2022 safety and shipping review, analysis by major insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty showed that there had been over 70 reported fires on board container ships alone since 2018, and the risks are growing as the car carriers are now transporting electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries as well.

“The main root cause for cargo fires on container ships is the integrity of dangerous goods throughout the supply chain. Therefore it is a problem that can only be improved through industry-wide solutions,” Maersk’s Aslak Ross said.

Data from marine insurer Allianz shows that during 2021, 54 total losses of vessels were reported globally, compared with 65 a year earlier. This represents a 57% decline over 10 years (127 in 2012), while during the early 1990s, the global fleet was losing over 200 ships yearly.

As of 2023, there are around 130,000 ships in the global fleet, compared with some 80,000, 30 years ago.

South China, Indochina, Indonesia, and the Philippines maritime region is the main global ship loss hotspot, accounting for one-in-five losses in 2021 (12) and one in four losses over the past decade (225), driven by factors including high levels of trade, congested ports, older fleets, and extreme weather.

Globally, cargo ships (27) account for half of the vessels lost in 2022 and 40% over the last ten years. Foundered (sunk/submerged) was the main cause of total losses over the past year, accounting for 60% (32), reported ‘Offshore Energy’.

While the total number of ship losses declined in 2022, the number of reported shipping casualties or incidents rose. The British Isles saw the highest number (668 out of 3,000). Machinery damage accounted for over one-in-three incidents globally (1,311), followed by collision (222) and fires (178), with the number of fires increasing by almost 10%.

In 2021, fires on board the roll-on roll-off (ro-ro) car carrier ‘Felicity Ace’ and the container ship ‘X-Press Pearl’ both resulted in total losses.

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