Ship Fire & Explosion: Facts and Measures




Three essential things are required to start a fire onboard a ship, (1) a source of ignition, (2) combustible material and (3) air.

In most engine room fires this translates to a non-insulated hot area, a leakage of oil and the air in the engine room.  In cargo spaces it can translate into a cigarette, cargo and abundant air.  The variations to start a fire are many, but with a fire preventive attitude and training in accordance to procedures the risk is minimised.

Facts and Findings

  • In 7 out of 10 cases fires occur when the vessel is on passage at sea.
  • Only in one tenth of the cases studied, the fire occurred during shipyard or drydock operations.
  • Most fires start in the engine room and are, in 7 out of 10 cases, caused by fuel oil leakage or short circuit of electrical equipment.
  • One third of the fires originate from cargo spaces.

Preventive measures

Machinery spaces

  • Keep a high general standard of cleanliness in the machinery spaces.
  • Ascertain that there is no hazardous leakage of oil in the machinery spaces.
  • All pipes and fittings should be routinely checked.
  • All repairs that are carried out to oil pipes and fittings should be of a permanent nature.
  • All high-pressure fuel oil pipes should be properly shielded.
  • Ensure that insulation/lagging covers all hot surfaces.
  • Ensure that all readily combustible materials are stored away only in designated areas.
  • Regularly test that the quick-closing valves are functioning.
  • The fire dampers must be functioning and regularly tested.
  • Contactors and connections in electrical installations should be regularly checked. All repairs of electric equipment to be performed or supervised by qualified personnel.
  • Test that the engine room fire alarm is working properly and be sure that the crew is well aware of the firefighting and emergency procedures.

Cargo holds

  • Smoking must never be permitted in areas where cargo is handled (hold, open hatchways, container, container stuffing area etc.).
  • When carrying cargo with tendency towards self-ignition monitoring of temperatures should be performed and unnecessary ventilation should be avoided.
  • Stowing, separation and lashing of dangerous goods must be done according to the IMDG code.
  • Securing of cargo on Ro-Ro decks must be arranged so that fire-fighting equipment is unobstructed during loading, discharging and on sea passage.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.