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Fire in cargo holds and emergency procedures for seagoing bulk carriers



The initial action for dealing with a fire in a cargo hold will be the same regardless of whether a ship is at sea or in port. Upon discovering such a fire, either visually or through the smoke detector, the Emergency Alarm must be sounded at once and the Emergency Party mustered.



The Chief Officer or the Senior Deck Officer on board is to direct the Emergency Party. His actions are to be governed by circumstances, but initially he must investigate the situation and assess the gravity of the fire. If personnel are, or have been, working in the affected hold a search must be made whilst commencing remedial action. The investigation is to determine if the fire can be dealt with using hoses, or if the fixed fire extinguishing system will be required. Whatever the outcome the Emergency Party must rig fire hoses around the affected hold and cool the deck.
Bulk cargo fire hazard
Fig: Fire consequence

The following are further guidelines should the fixed fire extinguishing system be required:
When such a fire occurs in port the local Fire Service must be called without delay and upon arrival the Senior Fire Service Officer will normally assume control of the operation.
It must be remembered that the concentration of CO2 in the hold must be maintained to compensate for leakage.

Re-ignition is likely to occur if the hatch is opened too soon and this may well be uncontrollable. Should entry be essential, every precaution must be taken to prevent re-ignition and the temperature of the hold carefully monitored.


Fire in Deck Cargo

In the event of a fire occurring in a deck cargo, it may be necessary for the Master to take the way of the vessel or alter course to put the wind astern in order to reduce the airflow over the deck. Whilst it is impossible to lay down specific guidelines for dealing with such a fire, the Chief Officer should direct the Emergency Party to bring as many hoses as possible into action from an upwind position.

With fires involving chemical cargoes, it is important for the Emergency Party to remain well upwind. The same applies to a spillage (not resulting in a fire) of a chemical cargo on deck. In port, the Oil Spill Contingency Plan must be put into action and the Port Authorities informed. Action here will depend on firstly, the danger to life on board and secondly, environmental considerations. If it is to be washed overboard, the spillage is to be washed overboard using copious quantities of water applied in the form of a spray only. Breathing apparatus and protective clothing must be worn.

Special instructions to deal with a leakage of, or fire in, dangerous chemicals carried, as deck cargo must always be available before sailing from the loading port. In special cases, additional protective clothing will also be required.


Fire through Ignition Source

A number of minor fires in bulk cargoes have been caused by external sources of ignition such as cigarette ends and hot bulldozer exhausts. Particular attention should be paid to prevent such incidents occurring.

No smoking notices must always be prominently displayed and every effort made to curb smoking by stevedore labour. In some less developed ports it may also be necessary to take active measures to prevent the lighting of random cooking fires by shore labour.

In all cases, it is particularly important to check the holds after cessation of cargo work and also after sailing from a port with cargo on board.


Spontaneous Combustion

Tapioca is susceptible to spontaneous combustion when damp, and surface ventilation should be carried out whenever weather conditions permit.


Oxygen Deficiency

As with all vegetable matter, Tapioca creates an oxygen deficiency in an enclosed space. Under certain conditions, damp Tapioca can also generate toxic vapours.

While good ventilation may largely alleviate the problems on the surface of the cargo, a danger will continue to exist in the hold access trunkings where oxygen levels as low as 2% have been detected. It is therefore essential to carry out full atmosphere checks on oxygen levels and to complete an Enclosed Space Entry Permit Form


In event of fire

when a fire is discovered always remember that the priorities are the safety of life, control of damage to the ship and her cargo, prevention of environmental pollution. Do not put your own life at unnecessary risk.

On discovering a fire or smoke immediately raise the alarm by activating the nearest alarm point and advise the bridge/officer of the watch by telephone or other means giving clear details. If the fire is minor and accessible then first-aid appliances such as portable extinguishers, fire blankets etc can be used by the person discovering the fire after raising the alarm.

If the fire is suspected to be behind a closed door, do not open the door and attempt to tackle the fire. The fire may be substantial or may suddenly flare up causing a flash fire. In such cases the emergency parties must be suitably prepared before attempting to extinguish the fire.

On hearing the alarm all personnel are to proceed to their allocated muster station as detailed on the Muster List. All personnel are to be suitably dressed in preparation wearing boiler suits, safety helmets and safety shoes. Lifejackets are also to be collected at this time. No personal effects are to be collected from cabins.


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