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There’s a major container ship fire every 60 days. Why so many?

PortandTerminal.com, March 22, 2019

If you feel like there have been a lot of container ship fires so far this year then you’re right. There have been.

TT Club has calculated that a major container ship happens every 60 days or so now. Why so many?

TT Club reported a jump in the number of container fires affecting cargo ships in 2019. The numbers show currently that a major container ship fire occurs every 60 days on average. Why so many?

What’s causing the fires?

In January 2019, a Hapag-Lloyd vessel on its way to Halifax caught fire off the coast of Canada.
After the fire spread to other containers, the ship was evacuated and two ocean-going tugs were dispatched to fight the blaze

TT Club has revealed that in 66% of incidents, cargo damage is due to poor practice in the packing process, including cargo identification, declaration, documentation and data transfer.

Peter Tirschwell, Vice President, Maritime & Trade, IHS Markit summed it up best in a recent Tweet when he stated that “dangerous goods, often misdeclared” are at the root of the problem.

Based on 2016 figures, the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association estimates that 5.4 million containers are packed with dangerous goods (DG) every year. If just one in a thousand of those 5.4 million containers is a serious fire risk, that means that there are 5,400 potential incidents waiting to happen each year.

“If we get more and more containers on-board, the chance that we will have a fire on-board [due to] misdeclared cargo is much bigger,” Uwe-Peter Schieder, vice-chairman of IUMI’s Loss Prevention Committee said in an interview.

The cost of the fires

In March 2019, a container fire broke out on the Grimaldi Group’s Grande America, which later sank as a result. According to Grimaldi, the fire on its vessel started in a container stowed on the deck

These incidents cost the Marine Aviation & Transport (MAT) insurance sector US$500 million in claims each year. They also cost lives, millions of dollars in cargo losses and ship damage. They also cause cargo delays that undermine maritime transport’s reliability. Remaining cargo on the Hapag Lloyd vessel that caught fire last January is still in Bermuda. It was bound for Halifax, Canada three months ago.

These recent fires have reopened the conversation about the difficulties of preventing and extinguishing fires on the open sea. In an era when ships are larger than they have ever been before, when crew are stretched, and the amount of dangerous goods being transported is growing can we really be surprised by TT Club’s “fire every 60 days” finding?

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