A Leak that Disabled Fighting Fire on Cargo Hold



On 07 September 2015, a fire was detected inside one of the cargo holds of Barzan, a Maltese registered container ship. At that time, the vessel was about 60 nautical miles off Cabo Finisterre.

The crew responded and commenced fire-fighting with boundary cooling, using the water drenching system on board. Subsequently, the fixed CO2 system was used but due to a number of leaks in the CO2 line, the required amount of gas did not reach the cargo hold to effectively smooth the fire. The starboard fire main line then developed a large leak at a joint in the under deck passage way which had to be isolated. This restricted the fire-fighting efforts to only the port side, leaving the starboard side, water drenching system unusable.


CO2 distribution manifold and pipeline


Emergency stop switch panel located on bridge

Eventually, the crew members, were able to control and restrict the fire and subsequently, the vessel resumed her passage.

Although it was instructed to head to Rotterdam, where she arrived safely on 10 September. The fire was finally extinguished by the Port of Rotterdam’s fire brigade on 14 September.

Barzan sustained minor structural damage in cargo hold no. 2. The CO2 system had to be inspected and overhauled and the starboard fire main line was adjusted and repaired.

The safety investigation concluded that although the CO2 system and fire mains had been tested satisfactorily prior to the vessel’s delivery in May 2015, the quality of the workmanship had contributed to the subsequent failure of both systems.


Fire hoses rigged and directed in gaps of hatch cover

The Marine Safety Investigation Unit has made two recommendations to the flag State Administration and United Arab Shipping Company, the managers of Barzan, aimed at improving fire safety on board.

Cause of the Fire

The MSIU determined that there were 9 IMDG containers loaded in CH no. 2 containing IMDG Class 2.1, 3, 8 and 9. However, according to the Bay plan, none of these containers were located near the seat of the fire, which was estimated to have been in the region of 19-06-12 and 19-06-14 (Figure 1). Moreover, when the CH was discharged at Rotterdam, all of these containers were accounted for and were noted to be intact. Therefore, the MSIU concluded that none of the declared IMDG containers had caused or caught fire.


Figure 1 – Profile view of CH no. 2 showing seat of fire

The safety investigation could not determine the actual cause of the fire as the affected containers had been discharged before the investigation team boarded the vessel. However, it is thought that the containers located in or around the seat of the fire may have contained undeclared IMDG cargo. Figures 2 and 3 show the damage to the ship’s structure, suggesting that there must have been some explosive force, which distorted the railings in the area. This explosive force could only be consistent with dangerous cargo being incorrectly stowed (prior to boarding) and becoming heated to a point where it has exploded, causing the doors to burst outwards and damaging the railings. The only explanation of not declaring the container as IMDG cargo would have been to avoid paying the freight costs associated with its carriage and its additional paperwork. Such a practice is dangerous and can put the life of the crew, the vessel and the environment at risk.


Figure 2 – Damages in and around seat of fire


Figure 3 – Damage of structural members at and around the seat of fire

Actions Taken

  1. A thorough inspection of all other in-service (newly built) vessels by the same approved service company which had conducted the inspection on board Barzan was carried out. All systems were checked for similar defects and all identified defects were promptly repaired and rectified.
  2. Pressure testing of all CO2 systems on newly built vessels to identify any leaks in the system.
  3. Discussions with the shipyard and the Classification Society to identify issues in the workmanship and the testing procedures in place. Many changes were reported to have been made by the Yard and the Class to ensure that the similar defects are eliminated from ships which are either in the new built stage or in the process of being designed.
  4. Immediately after the accident, a Fleet Circular was transmitted to all Company vessels, requesting that:
    1. all masters, chief engineers and chief mates conduct a thorough inspection of the CO2 fire-fighting system with respect to its readiness for immediate release in case of a fire and to report back to the Company;
    2. cargo holds’ smoke detection system is checked and verified that it operates satisfactorily;
    3. water spray systems (where fitted) are checked and verified that they are readily available;
    4. cargo hold bilge alarms are checked and verified that they are readily available;
    5. cargo hold bilge and pumping systems are checked and verified that they are readily available; and
    6. details of the CO2 system last inspection and blow-through of the CO2 lines (as per planned maintenance requirements) are reported to the Company
  5. A Fleet-wide campaign has been launched to evaluate the readiness of the ship’s fire-fighting equipment and the effectiveness of the officers and ratings in handling a similar emergency situation on board their respective vessels. This necessitated that a drill is carried out on all vessels, relating to a scenario involving a fire inside a cargo hold and focusing on the following:
    1. response of the Ships Emergency Team;
    2. familiarisation with the CO2 release mechanism for the cargo holds;
    3. familiarisation with the water spray system;
    4. boundary cooling and temperature measurement points – identification of locations which will be best suited for these purposes;
    5. hold bilges transfer to a ballast water tank to avoid pollution and environmental hazards;
    6. emergency communication with ‘Fleet Urgent’ and other authorities;
    7. record keeping and maintaining of an event log; and
    8. ease of use and immediate availability of fire-fighting and rescue equipment.


Smouldering container


The safety investigation concluded that although the CO2 system and fire mains had been tested satisfactorily prior to the vessel’s delivery in May 2015, the quality of the workmanship had contributed to the subsequent failure of both systems.


In view of the conclusions reached and taking into consideration the safety actions taken during the course of the safety investigation,

The Merchant Shipping Directorate is recommended to:

  • raise the fire-fighting equipment issues identified in this safety investigation report with the relevant recognised organisation acting on its behalf.

United Arab Shipping Company is recommended to:

  • disseminate the findings of this accident to its fleet.

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Source: Transport Malta


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