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Höegh Xiamen highlights PCTC fire risks

Another fire was reported on a PCTC a week after the Höegh Xiamen fire was put out in Florida. Work is continuing to lessen fire risks, which could increase with the shift to electric cars

The Höegh Xiamen fire took eight days to put out and injured eight firefighters

A SPATE of recent fires on car carriers have once again highlighted safety concerns amid efforts to improve technology and regulation of the sector.

There was a fire on the Panama-flagged, 20,494 dwt Polaris Highway at the Port of Zeebrugge, Belgium on Wednesday night, according to Lloyd’s List Intelligence.

Firefighters retrieved the burning vehicle from the cargo deck and extinguished it once ashore, with minor damage to the vessel reported.

The area of focus in the investigation surrounds the stevedore company’s taxi car. None of the cargo vehicles were involved.

K Line understands that the stevedore company is helping with the official investigation.

On June 12 firefighters in Jacksonville, Florida extinguished a serious fire on the 12,250 dwt Höegh Xiamen after eight days. The fire and explosion injured eight firefighters, with marine insurers facing multi-million dollar payouts.

In September a Hyundai Glovis carrier, the 20,995 dwt Golden Ray, capsized and caught fire off the US state of Georgia.

Petar Modev, head of ship inspections at Thomas Miller P&I Europe, said auto carrier fires were a continuing problem: “It’s a theme that we keep on seeing every year.”

Mr Modev said auto carriers combined flammable objects in an open space. “If something goes wrong the fire spreads very quickly,” he said. Mr Modev said many ro-ro vessels — including Höegh Xiamen — carried older cars, which were riskier.

He said industry groups and the International Maritime Organization had worked on guidelines for minimising fires and there were proposals to amend the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea.

Classification group DNV GL pointed to a study last year, which said ro-ros and PCTCs had low overall casualty numbers, likely due to high regulation, but showed an increase in fires and explosions last year.

The European Maritime Safety Agency, which has commissioned studies on ro-ro and PCTC fires, has said the biggest risk contributors to vessels were electrical fires and the failure of safety systems.

In an interview with Lloyd’s List in May, Wallenius Wilhelmsen chief executive Craig Jasienski said his company had put “a tremendous amount of effort” into improving fire safety on its car carriers.

Mr Jasienski said the company was working with different start-ups on early heat-detection systems, put in “much more stringent” controls on secondhand cargo and on loading and inspection requirements. “I think we’re doing a lot and the industry is doing a lot,” he said.

Mr Modev said work was continuing on how to fight battery fires, which generated “extremely high temperatures” and had to be fought in different ways to conventional fires. He said while electric cars were not yet common cargo, they could be an issue in future.

A DNV GL report in 2016 found 18 fires on ro-pax vessels between 2005 and 2016, as well as nine fires on PCTCS and pure car carriers, and eight on cargo ro-ro vessels.

“In all cases, the fires were caused by the cargo (cars, trucks etc.) or the power connection between the reefer unit and vessel,” the group said. 

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