Sprinkler systems need to be improved

Poorly functioning fire extinguishing systems have in recent years been repeatedly pointed out as a reason why uncontrolled fires have occurred on RoRo ships. The ReliS project, which is done within the Swedish Transport Administration’s industry program Sustainable Shipping will produce proposals on how sprinkler systems on RoRo decks can be improved and made more reliable.

At the time of writing, the container ship Pearl is sinking off Sri Lanka after burning for two weeks. No one has been injured, but the cargo of chemicals, including 25 tonnes of various acids, is now threatening to pollute the country’s west coast. The cause of the fire is believed to be a chemical reaction after a leak in one of the containers.

Fires on ships can have devastating consequences. Therefore, it is of course fundamental that each ship has a fire extinguishing system that works. In the case of roro vessels, analyzes have shown that the reliability of existing sprinkler systems, which are often several decades old, is deficient.

“Analyzes of recent years’ fires on RoRo ships show that there is a correlation between malfunction of the sprinkler systems and major fires and, in the worst case, completely destroyed vessels”, says Anna Olofsson, fire engineer at RISE, who leads the work with the pre-study ReliS – Reliable Sprinkler.

“It is common for dirt to clog the nozzles. The ships have found their own solutions for that. Some rinse with fresh water, others dry with air. You take off and clean, but in a few months, the problem will be back.”

All sections in a ship’s sprinkler system are usually not tested at the same time and as the rules look today, it can take a period of several years before all have been reviewed.

“There are shipping companies that have higher ambitions and runs the entire system every year, but often some sections stand for a long time without being tested. We have done a dozen interviews with on-board staff, as well as with inspectors from authorities and class, and everyone says that it is always one or more nozzles that are clogged when doing tests.”

The idea is that the ReliS project will delineate which solutions to the problem that all parties – shipowners, controlling authorities, classification societies – can agree on. Some things may be possible to do within current regulations, others may require changes.

“Right now we are doing literature studies at the same time as we gather information about the problem picture. The solutions come as we do interviews. We also make visits on board ships to study how sprinkler systems are tested”, says Anna Olofsson.

The ReliS project is ongoing throughout the year. The results, mainly suggestions for improvements to the technical and operational design of the sprinkler systems, will then be presented on the Lighthouse website.

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