▶ The hazard of fire and its prevention



  • The hazard of fire and its prevention, control and extinction in cargo operations:
  • Fire is the most widely discussed and most unwanted incident onboard ships.
  • The nature of the fire hazard, its prevention, control and extinction will vary depending on the type of the vessel because of the type, of cargo and its properties and the equipment on board the vessel.


  • Prior undertaking any operation particularly loading/unloading, a thorough risk assessment must be made with particular concerns regarding the properties of a cargo with regards to firefighting.
  • The Assessment of the risks invloved will vary with each operation but the follwing basic approach remains the same.


  • The basic steps to be followed:
  • Identify the Hazard.
  • Decide who might be harmed and how.
  • Evaluate the risks and decide on the precautions.
  • Record your findings and implement them.
  • Review your risk assessment and update if necessary.
  • A general understanding of the fire hazards associated with different cargoes is mentioned below.


  • General Understanding of the fire hazards associated with different cargoes:
  • Bulk cargoes are deemed to present a great deal of fire hazards. Many bulk cargoes have a tendency to heat due to the oxidation process taking place during the voyage.
  • Common cargoes like coal, sulphur, cotton, fishmeal are liable to spontaneous heating.


  • Coal also emits methane which is a flammable gas. When mixed with air it can form an explosive mixture.
  • Dust created by certain cargoes may constitute an explosion hazard. Sulphur dust can readily ignite causing an explosion.
  • Friction between cotton bales can cause spontaneous combustion and produce heat.
  • Container fires can be caused due to cargoes like Calcium hypochlorite which is an oxidising substance and gives off extreme heat.


  • Fire Prevention:
  • Fire prevention will vary depending on the type of the vessel and cargo however some preventive actions are common to all vessels.
  • The common measures to be undertaken are as follows:
  • On Arrival at any port ensure that you have the phone numbers of the agent, fire brigade, the police and the local ambulance.
  1. Enforce NO SMOKING especially on deck and cargo areas with particular attention to stevedore labour (On Gen. Cargo Ships).
  2. No naked lights to be permitted on deck or holds. For e.g. welding jobs.
  3. All firefighting apparatus should be accessible and in a state of readiness. In some cases fire hoses will need to be rigged and ready.


  1. Spark arrestors to be fitted on the funnel exhaust.
  2. No oily waste or oily rags to be left over in the holds or any place as these are liable to spontaneous combustion.
  3. A watchful Fire Patrol to be maintained throughout the operation and after.
  4. No chipping or similar jobs to be carried out which give rise to sources of ignition.


  • The IMSBC code(International Maritime Solid Bulk Cargoes Code)should be consulted for the safe stowage and shipment of solid bulk cargoes.
  • Important considerations for fire prevention on board ships must also include safe practices within the Engine Room.
  • Ship’s crew should be careful about galley fires, especially by keeping electrical equipment in good order.
  • Senior officers should keep an eye in the galley when provision is being received because this is the time when galley remains unattended for a long time.
  • One of the patent methods of fire prevention is effective and regular fire patrol even on the voyage. There is no method that can beat physical monitoring.
  • ship personnel must always discuss the characteristics of the cargo and preventive methods to be taken during safety meetings and weekly drills.


  • Firefighting:
  • In port, it is far easier to get assistance as opposed to that at sea but that doesn’t discount the urgency and severity of the same.
  • In fact, with more people concentrated onboard in addition to the proximity to flammable area, it is even more necessary to adhere to the strictest dictum.
  • Actions To Take In Case Of Fire will depend on the type of cargo properties but the following actions will be required.
  • Raise the alarm. This will alert all personnel.
  • Cease all operations in this hold and evacuate any person that might be inside or in the periphery of the hold.
  • Send all stevedores ashore and cease operations in every other hold as well.
  • Cease ventilation.
  • Inform the local fire brigade, Port authorities and Keep the Master informed of the situation throughout the process of fire fighting.
  • Notify the local agents ASAP.
  • Commence fire fighting immediately to the best of the ability, trying to extinguish it before it spreads.
  • Inform Engine room to keep Engines ready because the Port Control might ask the vessel to move out to an anchorage to not jeopardise the surrounding vessels.
  • If the initial actions do not extinguish the fire then the Master and Chief Engineer may decide to inject CO2 in consultation with the local fire brigade.
  • Commence boundary cooling.
  • When personnel from the fire brigade show up, all assistance and information must be provided to them. They are far better trained and equipped to fight fire. Although the fire brigade is present, the Master will always be the ultimate in charge.