Fires on board containerships are an increasing problem on a global scale. Historically, these fires have proven to be extremely complex and difficult to manage - often resulting in significant financial losses and, in the worst cases, loss of human life.
Containerships have significantly increased in size over the past decades, and this trend seems will continue towards ever-larger vessels. While economically impactful, this size increase also leads to even greater risks of fires during their voyages. These fires are very complex, especially when it comes to fires in cargo holds. It is difficult to detect the fire early enough, and extinguishing such fires is both very dangerous and cumbersome, which often can lead to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars for a single accident.
In addition, the increasing amount of incorrectly declared cargo often results in catastrophic fires, when dangerous goods are unknowing placed deep in the hold and catch fire. Finally, human factors also come into play, in particular regarding how well the crew are prepared to deal with such fires on board.
As Denmark is the world's second largest flag state of container ships, Danish shipping companies, equipment manufacturers and other members of the Blue Denmark all play a significant role in reducing the risk and the impact caused by containership fires. Therefore, it has been a goal of DBI’S pilot CONTAIN project to contribute to the strengthening of Danish players, in influencing improved fire safety in the holds of containerships.
With the pilot project CONTAIN, DBI has begun to address the issues and challenges of containership fires in three main areas: technical, human and organization factors.
The technical focus of CONTAIN has been on experimental work; investigating the potential mechanisms/causes of fire spread between containers, modeling selected critical fire scenarios to create new learning in the field, as well as gathering learning from historical fires.
In addition to examining technical solutions, so-called “human factors” were investigated in the CONTAIN project. These must also be included in a fire strategy for a given container ship, along with investigating the best detection and extinguishing methods.
Lastly, the CONTAIN project also had as a focus to map The Blue Denmark's role in solving the challenges of fires on container ships. A "road map" was developed, directed towards enhanced fire safety for the entire value chain in container shipping, along with having a focus on the complex international organizational chain of the container shipping industry.
Through the pilot CONTAIN project, DBI’s goal has been to address the challenges of containership fires, through selected key points within each of these three areas. The projects results and conclusions serve as foundation for larger CONTAIN follow-on projects, involving full scale testing, more extensive field studies, and further development of new fire modeling and simulation tools.