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Fire & safety on board cargo ships - sources of ignition & prevention methods

It is very important that strict fire prevention is put into place onboard seagoing cargo ships and the following guideline will outline some of these measures. Nearly all fires, which have happened on board ships, could have been avoided.

Fire fighting on a ship is difficult and dangerous owing to the confined areas in which the fire can be tackled and restricted means of escape. These difficulties and dangers can be greatly reduced with the regular exercising and training in fire drills.


Components of fire: Fire requires the presence of three items;

  1. Fuel
  2. Heat
  3. Oxygen
These three factors give rise to the fire triangle and a fire cannot start or continue if one of the sides of the triangle is removed.



Fuel can be solid or liquid and when heated it will give off flammable vapours. Fuel can also be a gas which will start to burn when its ignition temperature is reached. Heat can be transferred by:
  1. Radiation (e.g. from a heating appliance, flames, spark or explosion)
  2. Conduction (e.g. through steel bulkheads)
  3. Convection (e.g. via gases, liquids or hot air circulated through vent trunking)
Oxygen is readily available in air.


Types of fire: The standard method of classifying fires is by the type of fuel which is burning;
Extinguishing principles: There are three main principles of extinction -
Sources of ignition: The main sources of ignition most likely to occur on a ship are:


Fire prevention: Fire can be prevented by following the below points:
  1. Good housekeeping is essential in all areas of the ship


  2. Smoking regulations are to be strictly observed - Do Not Smoke in Bed!


  3. Private electrical equipment such as radios, CD players and personal laptop computers including transformers and adapters for same are only to be used if the equipment is type approved. If any crewmember is in doubt as to whether the equipment is type approved he/she is to seek advice from the ship’s Master. When such equipment is not in use they are to be switched off and disconnected from the power source.


  4. Laundry equipment is to be switched off when not in use. Electric irons must not be left unattended when switched on.


  5. Clothes and other flammable materials must be kept clear of radiators, hot equipment and systems.


  6. Galley equipment is to be switched off when the galley is left unattended. Galley equipment is only to be used by authorised catering staff.


  7. Paints and painting materials are to be returned to the paint store on completion of daily work.


  8. All other flammable working materials such as chemicals and gases are to be stowed in accordance with the manufacturer’s, and/or, Company’s instructions.


  9. Spillages of oil, paint, solvents or other flammable liquids are to be wiped up immediately and rags disposed of correctly.


  10. All rags, especially wet or oily ones, are to be safely disposed of immediately after use and must on no account be left lying around.


  11. On moving around the vessel, particularly during safety rounds, be on the lookout for signs of possible fire hazards. If sighted they are to be reported to the officer of the watch. Any suspicious smells are also to be reported to the officer of the watch immediately. In addition the following are amongst the most successful means of preventing fire within the Machinery Spaces:


  12. Definition of high-risk areas where additional precautions are to be taken (e.g. purifier rooms)


  13. Frequent safety rounds of the engine room


  14. Correct maintenance of machinery and all other equipment


  15. Insulating hot areas such as exhausts.



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Required Personal protective equipment (PPE) for working in a confined space

Ships Confined area safe practice

Shipboard hazards & bulk carriers safety guideline

Health hazards for personnel working in a dusty condition onboard

Safe working practice onboard self unloading bulk carriers

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Operation of sea going bulk carriers involved numerous hazards . Careful planning and exercising due caution for all critical shipboard matters are important . This site is a quick reference to international shipping community with guidance and information on the loading and discharging of modern bulk carriers so as to remain within the limitations as specified by the classification society.
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