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DBI to untie Gordian knot for fires at sea

Published: 11.12.23

An increase in the number of ship fires has put focus on the challenge of battery fires, but no stakeholders can solve the problem alone. Therefore, DBI – The Danish institute of Fire and Security Technology works to bring the industry together and to raise the safety level.

The number of ship fires has reached the highest level in 10 years. This fact is published in the Danish trade magazine 'Søfart', which quotes the marine insurance company Allianz’s annual report Safety and Shipping Review 2023. However, new rules and requirements for the level of fire protection must be coordinated and adopted by the international maritime organisation IMO. This takes a long time and means that the rules are a compromise that is often the least common denominator. At the same time, it is difficult to point to who should lead the way in improving fire safety.

This is explained by Thomas Davidsen, a marine engineer and project manager in DBI’s maritime team. He elaborates that the existing approved fire strategies such as CO2 systems and sprinkler systems may be insufficient when new types of goods, such as products with lithium-ion batteries, catch fire.

“The problem grows when the reality on the burning ship does not match the scenarios on which the fire strategy is based. For example, when the crew waits to activate the fire extinguishing system for entirely legitimate reasons, or when the load contains lithium-ion batteries, which require special handling in the event of a fire," says Thomas Davidsen.

With a background from the Danish Maritime Accident Investigation Board, Thomas Davidsen has seen many examples of equipment, plans and actions that have not been adapted or are insufficient in the specific situation. However, he emphasises that it is difficult to take into account all conceivable combinations when talking about fire on ships.

No one takes responsibility alone
Shipping companies, insurance companies, industry organisations and crews all have an interest in improving fire safety levels at sea, but it is complex to address the problem. It can be difficult for the individual shipping company to invest large sums in increasing fire safety, as this can jeopardise the company’s competitiveness. Insurance companies refuse to demand a higher safety level due to fears that shipping companies will simply choose to insure their ships elsewhere, and this is how the problem becomes a vicious circle.

“It’s a Gordian knot where no one can solve the problem alone, and where no one has the incentive to take the first step,” says Thomas Davidsen and continues:

"We can clearly see that the current extinguishing methods and strategies in SOLAS (the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, ed.) are insufficient. The number of fires is growing and there is a need to research how best to deal with the new reality. And there’s also a great need to bring the industry together to discuss the solutions that we come up with," says Thomas Davidsen.

DBI wants to bring the industry together regarding higher fire safety
This is where DBI can contribute due to its status as an independent GTS institute. DBI has previously demonstrated how it has succeeded in bringing together several shipping companies and the Danish Maritime Fund on the ELBAS project, which investigated fires in electric cars at sea. In the same way, DBI has led a consortium with Bureau Veritas, the Swedish technology institute RISE, the University of Southern Denmark and Odense Maritime Technology which, in the CARGOSAFE project, has made recommendations on how to improve fire safety on container ships.

“The obvious solution is to work with the guidelines at IMO level. The playing field will then be the same for everyone, and we know that the stakeholders are willing to go very far when it comes to safety and innovation, but also that they want a level playing field so that they can maintain their competitiveness. At DBI, we are happy to help bring the industry together to find the best solutions that are both efficient and economically attractive," says Thomas Davidsen.

Read also: Improved fire safety for container ships on the horizon

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Anders V. Kristensen

Project Manager

+45 50 80 78 09