Mitigating the Risks of Marine Fires: Understanding Historical Incidents and Implementing Safety Measures

Although marine fires in the middle of the ocean are rare occurrences, they can have devastating consequences when they do happen. Factors such as oily rags, electrical faults, human errors, and engine room leaks can spark fires on ships. While these incidents are not frequent among the approximately 6,000 container ships traversing the seas daily, it is essential to be aware of their potential dangers. In this article, we explore notable marine fires caused by containerships and provide boater safety tips to help ensure the safety of your vessel.

  1. Hanjin Pennsylvania – Indian Ocean, 2002

On November 11, 2002, a cargo container on a cargo ship‚ The Hanjin Pennsylvania, exploded off of the coast of Sri Lanka. The ship was transporting goods from Singapore to Germany.

The source of the explosion? Misdeclared containers aboard the vessels which stored fireworks. Four days after the initial blast, a second explosion rocked the over 200,000 ton boat.

The ship stayed afloat, but was declared a total loss until it was rebuilt and returned to working condition, then renamed the Norasia Bellatrix.

Tragically, two crew members were killed in the accident.

  1. Hyundai Fortune – Gulf of Aden, 2006

The Hyundai Fortune was carrying over 3,000 shipping containers when it was rocked by an explosion as it headed west in the Gulf of Aden. On March 21, 2006, an explosion launched containers overboard, sent debris five miles past the ship, and damaged ⅓ of the containers aboard.

To this day, the cause of the explosion is unknown. The damage to the ship was repaired and later returned to working condition.

Only one of the 27 crew members suffered non-life threatening injuries.

  1. MSC Flaminia – North Atlantic, 2012

On a sunny day in July 2012, the German-flagged container ship the MSC was sailing across the North Atlantic when tragedy struck. This 12-year-old vessel  experienced a series of explosions and a major fire aboard during its journey from the U.S. to Belgium. 

Tragically, four crew members lost their lives.

The 300-meter vessel burned for several weeks and severely damaged the vessel while also spouting toxic smoke into the air. The ship was not allowed refuge for months because it was deemed an environmental hazard.

Following the explosion, there was an uproar in the international maritime sector for a call to more action regarding maritime safety as well as new European Union guidelines for ships in distress.

Despite the immense damage the ship underwent, it was eventually repaired and returned to service the next year.

  1. Maersk Honam – Arabian Sea, 2018

A few short years ago, the Maersk Honam was headed west of the Arabian Sea carrying over 7,000 containers to Egypt. This vessel, one of the largest of its kind, was deemed an Ultra Large Container Ship (ULCS).

When it caught fire on March 6, 2018, the flames were so fierce that after a week, the entire ship from bow to superstructure was ablaze. In fact, the flames were so large that they could be seen from outer space.

Five crew members died in the incident and the source of the fire is still unknown due to the heavy damage.

Marine Fire Safety Tips

When it comes to fire protection, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Don’t let the tragic incidents of the cargo ships happen to you and your crew! Here are a few tips to stay safe while at sea.

  1. Have the proper documents and certifications up to code
  2. Test and check all fire safety equipment
  3. Perform routine engine room maintenance 
  4. Perform routine deck maintenance 
  5. Prepare your crew for emergency situations
  6. Routinely check emergency equipment 

For more marine fire safety tips, read our article on boater safety: tips that will float your boat.

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