London Tower Fire – What Shipping has to Learn From it?

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Brexit is not the only thing Britain is suffering from so far. In the past month, Britain has witnessed a catastrophic bomb blast and now, a tower was ablaze with 17 deaths confirmed and 58 people are feared to have died in a fire which tore through a West London tower block in minutes – with investigators saying the death toll could rise even more. Though, the disaster might not be directly relating to shipping, we care that shipping need not wait for such disasters.

Investigators claim that the real cause of tower fire was an exploding refrigerator. It is not only a refrigerator, but also other electro-mechanical domestic appliances which are of serious concern with regard to their own intrinsic safety. Previously used refrigerants like Freon are being replaced with newer and less Ozone depleting refrigerant gases.

Here is an important point to focus on: These newer refrigerant gases are highly flammable when compared to the older ones (in general) and thus, when older refrigerants are being replaced with newer less-ozone depleting ones, a special emphasis on fire and explosion potential is required. Ships have their own central air conditioning and reefer systems – as well as domestic refrigerators in individual cabins. HSEQ department of shipping companies should re-visit and evaluate such flammability and explosion potential of refrigerants used.

Reports and news agencies revealed that the Grenfell Tower in London – underwent a major refurb whereby all panels were designed/fitted at aiming highest energy efficiency. These energy efficient panels were made with foam – which was blamed to blaze up the tower in minutes. Guess what? These foam panels / materials are entirely legal and complies with all current building regulations. In some cases, the panel cladding is used for aesthetic purposes but its prime purpose is as insulation to make the building more energy efficient.

“Energy Efficiency” – a key buzz word in shipping in recent years, has to take into account the materials used to attain such EEDI/EEOI scores. It is vital that the unintended consequences of regulation need to be taken much more seriously than it currently is. Several in our industry have warned of the effect of EEDI in producing underpowered ships and although this issue is now being considered, the push for more regulation from environmentalists and regional bodies is relentless and there will certainly be other areas where far more caution needs to be exercised.

The spread of London tower fire should be an eye-opener for the shipping industry. When any panels, claddings are being replaced, it is essential to check walls, bulkheads, joints, seals, and other places where fire risk are predominant.

A recent report reveals that – two women feared dead in the Grenfell Tower tragedy were allegedly threatened with legal action after they campaigned for improved fire safety. When the same is projected onto shipping – shipping companies should come forward to reward those who raise flag, which potentially improves safety of ship/life at sea.

These are two cents worth from MFAME to enlighten the importance of shipboard safety.

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Source: The Mirror, The Independent, & Ship insight

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