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Loss Prevention Circular No

Loss Prevention Circular No. 05-00
Fire in the Hold: Smoking Policies Onboard Ship

Ship Type: Bulk carrier (built 1984)
Cargo: Paper and forest products

All shipowners and ship managers have onboard smoking policies. However, there is a need for properly implementing and documenting the policy to ensure that: (1) all is done to prevent against smoking related fires and (2) in the event of a fire, shipowner’s and ship manager’s interests are protected if a fire arises as a result of smoking in non-designated areas.

Course of events
The ship sailed from the first port of call at 2018 hrs on 14 March and arrived at its second port of call at 0800 hrs on 15 March. At 0042 hrs on March 19, the ship sailed for 1st discharge port. For the first 16 days after departure, the ship’s cargo Holds were mechanically ventilated due to sea spray on the ventilation mushrooms. Ventilation was resumed at 0900 hrs on the 7 April and stopped again at 1500 hrs on 8 April. At that time, dehumidification was commenced in Holds Nos. 2, 3, 5 and 7 and continued until arrival in Rotterdam at 0842 hrs on April 11.

Throughout the voyage, the Chief Officer (C/O) and the deck cadet inspected the cargo Holds daily by walking through two under deck passageways by looking through the vent openings directly into the stow. The condition of the cargo was observed to be satisfactory throughout the voyage.

Figure 1

At 1518 hrs on 15 April, the ship sailed for 2nd discharge port and arrived at 1630 hrs on 17 April. At this time, a sign saying "NO SMOKING" was lowered at the gangway platform rail at the top of the steps so that anyone coming onboard would see it (Figure 1). The ship’s other portable "NO SMOKING" sign was broken. One of the ship’s officers posted a hand written sign stating "(STRICTLY) NO SMOKING ON DECK AND HOLDS" (Figure 2). This sign was fixed to the rail at the top of the ladder from the poop deck to the main deck, port side.

Figure 2

A cargo surveyor boarded the ship at 2130 hrs on 17 April. At 2145 hrs, Hold No. 2 was opened. The Third Officer, operated the gantry crane, removed the hatch covers. Some condensation was observed on to the plastic sheets but smoke was neither seen nor smelled. The plastic sheets were removed (taking approximately 15 to 30 minutes). At the time, neither the surveyor nor any members of the ship’s crew were smoking in the Hold.

At 2155 hrs, two stevedore gangs came onboard. One gang entered Hold No. 2 and the other entered Hold No. 5. At 2210, the discharge of reels of tissue paper from Hold No. 2 commenced. At 0450 hrs on 18 April, Hold No. 2 was closed due to rain. At 0700 hrs Hold No. 2 was reopened and discharge recommenced. Dunnage and plywood were cleared away from Hold No. 2 between 0700 and 0750 hrs. Between 0750 hrs and 0820 hrs the remaining tissue paper was removed before the lifting frame was changed in order to unload some other quality paper.

Changing the frame took approximately 10 minutes and at 0830 hrs the discharge of the commenced. At this point the plywood sheets had been removed and only timber slats covered the cargo beneath. This exposed many gaps between the units of pulp below.

Fire in the hold
At about 0950 hrs, the lifting frames were removed to discharge the pulp. It was about this time that the Third Officer saw stevedores smoking inside Hold No. 2 yet took no action to report it to the Master or talk directly with the stevedores. The smokers were standing just forward of the centre of the hold and he could see they were blowing smoke and could observe their cigarettes. At about 1000 hrs, he saw the crane driver over Hold No. 5 smoking in the cab with the window open. At approximately 1100 hrs, the Third Officer saw a stevedore smoking while standing in Hold No. 2.

At approximately 1130 hrs, a plume of smoke was observed in Hold No. 2 coming through the gap in the flock on the fourth tier up in an area to the port side of the centre of the hold. Two stevedores reported seeing flames coming from the sides of the bales. The pulp was then lifted to see the extent of the fire. Then the full frame of twelve unites were lifted in order to have a better view of the fire. When the frame was lifted, the wrapping paper underneath and on the sides was on fire. Shortly after, the gap from which the bales had been removed was full of flames.

The fire hoses were activated and water was introduced into Hold No. 2 to extinguish the fire that had now spread across the centre of the hold.

The Fire Brigade was notified and arrived at 1142 hrs, laid out their fire hoses and inspected the hold. Strong winds fanned the fire and prevented it from being extinguished. At 1215 hrs it was decided to stop the water and at 1227 the hatch covers were closed to introduce CO2. Closure was completed at 1235 hours and at 1245 hrs, 20 bottles of CO2 were released into Hold No. 2. At 1345 hrs, a further 24 cylinders of CO2 were released into the hold. At 1430 hrs the water spray was stopped and the temperature in Hold No. 2 was monitored.

At 1115 hrs on the following day (19 April), a decision was made to reopen the hold. Discharge of cargo commenced at 1200 hrs using the Fire Brigade personnel wearing breathing apparatus. Consequently the Fire Brigade had to use water spray to extinguish the flames, both in the hold and on the jetty, and to assist the control of smoke.

Initially it was possible to discharge the units of wood pulp using standard hooks (see Figure 3). But as more water was used, the bales began to swell and the retaining bands broke under the hydraulic force.

Figure 3

This made it difficult to remove the units. By midnight on 19 April, the discharge by normal means was becoming extremely difficult since there were a sufficient number of bands that broke making removal by hooks impossible. The ship’s grabs became the only means by which to discharge the cargo.

By 0230 hrs on 20 April, the hold was still filled with smoke and the wind was rapidly ventilating the fire as the units were exposed. The fire had spread through the cargo but was limited to the paper wrapping on bales. By mid morning on 20 April, it was decided to use a mechanical digger to break into the stow. Discharge was finally completed at 0315 hrs on 23 April.

Extent of damage
The fire began in Hold No. 2 and was contained therein. The majority of the damage was the result of water damage to the cargo. Costs were incurred for damage to the cargo, loss of hire (6 days), surveying and repair of the vessel and extinguishing the fire. The total cost for this damage was USD 2.13 million.

Probable cause

The most probable cause was smoking in Hold No. 2. However, there are questions as to whether the cargo caught fire because of: (1) stevedores or the vessel’s crew smoking in the 2nd discharge port or (2) the vessel’s crew smoking prior to arrival to the 2nd discharge port. Given that most of the damage to the cargo was to the wrappings and was deep seated, the fire was more than likely started by the stevedores in the 2nd discharge port.

Impact on vessel’s H&M policy
The vessel itself did not suffer any damage of significance because of the fire. Any physical damage to ship would of course have been covered by the vessel’s H&M policy. However, in addition the H&M policy covers measures to avert or minimize a loss for which H&M underwriters would have been liable, such as ship’s proportion of General Average. Invariably, General Averages are to be adjusted according to York Antwerp Rules (which is normally stated in the charter party / B/L). In YAR Rule III it is made clear that e.g. damage to ship and cargo by (the deliberate use of) water used in extinguishing a fire on board the ship shall be made good in General Average, as opposed to the (accidental) fire damage which cannot be allowed in General Average. Consequently, in this particular case, a General Average situation existed.

Once the General Average had been adjusted/apportioned over the contributing values, the majority of the extinguishing water damage to cargo, being allowed in General Average, fell on the vessel being in undamaged condition, and consequently became payable by vessel’s H&M Underwriters. The cargo, on the other hand, was badly damaged by fire and/or water, with consequent reduction in contributing value. Although, the water damage contributed to General Average to the extent it was allowed (ref. e.g. YAR Rule XVII).

Action was taken to seek recourse from the stevedores, dealt with in Chapter 5, paragraph 3 of the Norwegian Marine Insurance Plan as far as vessel’s H&M insurance is concerned. The opposition tried to sow seeds of doubt about our owner’s ability to adhere to a strict "Non smoking Policy" since over a period of time they found discarded smoking material in other vessels operated by the same owner. This was sufficient to prove that there was reasonable doubt towards an absolutely 100% non-smoking culture. It is therefore of outmost importance to keep the vessels tidy and clean and dispose any discarded smoking related materials. Any room for doubt may be detrimental to the insurer’s effort in seeking recourse. The subject case was settled on amicable terms outside of the court.

Recommendations and Lessons Learned
(1) Onboard smoking policies should be strictly adhered to at all times. Smoking should only be allowed in designated smoking areas.
(2) Proper documentation of the smoking policy should be followed in compliance with the ISM Code. This strict compliance with the smoking policy and the company’s ability to provide documentary proof can strengthen the position of the company if conflicts arise as to whether shore staff or the ship’s crew start a fire by smoking in designated non-smoking areas.
(3) As part of the fire prevention strategy, companies should consider ensuring that all smoking materials are immediately discarded. Good housecleaning practices should be implemented to ensure that cigarette butts and wrappings are removed.
(4) Signboards and posters need to be posted at designated positions that ensure that individuals coming onboard are told of the ship’s strict non-smoking policy.
(5) Written and verbal notice should be given to stevedores about the smoking policy that includes requiring a signature that shows the stevedoring company(ies) accept the policy.
(6) Officers and crew should be reminded that:
(a) smoking in non-designated areas by shipboard or non-crew personnel is not permitted,
(b) it is their responsibility to ensure that the individual is told of the smoking policy, and
(c) if personnel are found smoking in non-designated areas, the smoking material is extinguished and properly discarded.