The fire industry must work to improve safety at sea as well as on land to protect lives by taking action to prevent avoidable deaths through three simple steps:
- Improve inspections to identify CO2 leakage from a ship’s fixed CO2 liquefied gaseous fire suppression system to ensure the fire system is ready to extinguish a fire event when required
- Ensure oxygen and gas monitors are given to mariners and surveyors in enclosed spaces to prevent unnecessary fatalities
- As part of the move to value human life to ensure the eradication of slavery called for in Maritime 2050 Strategy led by the UK Government
Through the years of working in the shipping industry, Coltraco Ultrasonics have collected anecdotal evidence and research from ship owners, managers, surveyors and marine servicing companies that a significant proportion of ships CO2 cylinders are found to be empty due either to accidental discharge or under-filled due to slow leakage of contents. The regulations themselves also assume the agent loss occurs and the need to check for loss of agent.
1. CO2 Fire Suppression System (FSS) Loss
When at sea, the crew are required to become fire fighters in a fire event, yet this is not their primary role onboard. Ships tend to use fixed CO2 fire suppression systems because it is effective, and CO2 is a cheap suppressant agent. Therefore, often fire safety is treated as a tick-box exercise. The danger of CO2 loss is highlighted by Mr Hunter who has 30 years’ experience in the shipping and offshore industry who says: “we estimate that 20% of ships are sailing with a loss of CO2, due to high pressurisation leakage or accidental discharge. This inevitably means that the design concentration of the CO2 will be insufficient to control fire.”
Maritime companies do not want to lose time or money, and therefore push their personnel to make do, often at the price of safety, or regulatory compliance.
CO2 systems leak and when they do, they are dangerous
- July 2017: Red Eagle accidental CO2 discharge
- June 2016: Eddystone accidental CO2 discharge
- August 2011: Accidental discharge of CO2 onboard SD Nimble, serious injury to a shore-based service engineer
- May 2010: Uncontrolled release of CO2 onboard Marsol Pride
- November 2008: At least 20 people died in an accident on K-152 Nerpa, a Russian Akula II class nuclear submarine, when a Halon-based fire extinguishing system was activated by mistake during sea trials
The regulations & standards assume leakage
The risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of FSS use and this is shown in the regulations that demand their upkeep. Both land and marine-based regulations agree it is important to ascertain the correct fill quantity. However, the land industry understands better the need for more rigorous testing. We should encourage the shipping regulations to tighten up (get in touch for detailed explanation of the different regulations.)
2. Oxygen & gas monitors for enclosed spaces
When CO2 leaks, it puts any humans in the surrounding area at risk due to lowering the oxygen levels in the air to a lethal point.
- September 2004: Crew member on a Hong Kong registered ship accidentally triggered the fixed CO2 system while preparing for a routine inspection. Attempts to fix situation led to death of four officers. Without going into unnecessary detail, the CO2 leaked into the room, but was not noted because the crew did not carry gas monitors during their inspections.
- 2018 an estimated 23 people died due to asphyxiation or carbon monoxide poisoning in cargo holds.
- 1999-2018 125 fatalities were reported, of which 106 were due to asphyxiation arising from oxygen depletion and/or toxic gasses in the cargo holds or adjacent spaces.
CO2 leaking poses a serious risk to human lives: above 10% concentration of CO2 causes unconsciousness in humans and at 17% and above, survival time is less than 60 seconds. Enforcing the wearing of personal oxygen and gas monitors is a cheap, simple and quick solution that some of the leading fleets already implement.
3. Eradication of modern slavery at sea
CO2 contents checking and the need for gas monitors in enclosed spaces is set in the context of focusing on improving the state in which seafarers and shore-based mariners are employed. Mariners must be de-commoditised.
- The International Labour Organisation states at any given time an estimated 40.3 million people globally are in modern slavery, which includes 24.9 million in forced labour.
- 2013-2014 National Crime Agency UK identified 37 potential victims of modern slavery in maritime.
We must implement the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015 to truly see an end to exploitative, destructive and inhumane activities in the maritime industry.
Let’s take action!
To implement safety culture is to save lives, cargo and vessel. For a ship to be truly safe, its systems and crew need to be fully operational and protected, which can only be achieved when CO2 systems, enclosed spaces and crewing are addressed. Coltraco Ultrasonics call for the maritime industry to learn from the fire industry and stop the unnecessary cost of lives by cutting corners and to start investing in the true safety of those that they protect.