Importance of Gaseous Fixed Fire Extinguishing Systems

Importance of Gaseous Fixed Fire Extinguishing Systems

The International Maritime Risk Rating Agency (IMRRA) has ranked fire safety as the leading tanker deficiency seen by PortState Control for the first six months of the year. In March 2017, there were 152 cases of fire reported. The IMMRA placed 12.5% of tankers it assessed in January 2017 into the higher risk category – a six-month high.

Serious cases of tanker fires and risks have been reported in the past year. In September 2016 a Pemex oil tanker had a serious fire in the Gulf of Mexico, on which it was carrying 80,000 barrels of diesel, 71,000 of gasoline and 16,000 barrels of desulfurized gasoline. In March 2017, there was an explosion on a Chinese Tanker, in which 3 crewmembers went missing and serious damage to the vessel was caused. Even as recently as seven month of this year, fire safety is still being neglected, with the crew of the tanker MT IBA reporting empty fire extinguishers (despite transporting crude oil) and leaking life boat’s hydraulic system with no means of testing.

Security of life at sea primarily, then of cargo and asset is critical at sea. Fire safety is especially so, yet even in 2017, gaseous fixed fire extinguishing systems are often overlooked and misunderstood at all levels: owners, managers, chief engineers and crew. The reality is that gaseous systems are checked for contents annually because they are pressurised and anything that is dynamic offers risk of loss of contents but this fails to deal with the probability of discharge or leakage for the 364 days per annum in the interim between certification checks. So, being one of the top leaders, Coltraco suggest you to possess ultrasonic liquid level indicator on board to avoid loss at any cost.

What is a typical ships’ extinguishing system?

In terms of ships’ extinguishing systems, there exist two broad categories: sprinkler systems and gas systems such as CO2 & Marine CO2 Systems. While the former can suffer leakage but the latter can cause catastrophic effect given the high physical pressures. An average ship’s CO2 system comprises between 200 and 600 cylinders each containing 45KG of CO2 under high 720 psi/ 49 bar pressure. One of the highest probabilities of discharge occurs during their maintenance. Some marine service companies estimate that 20% of a ship’s CO2 cylinders have discharged or partially leaked their contents at some point in their lifetime.

Although random checks may be suitable in some sectors, it is worth remembering that because the normal design concentration of CO2 of 34-72v/v % is above the nearly immediate acute lethality level, these systems have an extremely narrow safety margin. As these systems work through oxygen dilution rather than the chemical disruption of the catalytic combustion chain (which is the case with other clean agents), insufficient CO2 levels during an emergency may allow a situation to spiral out of hand. Gaseous extinguishing systems protect urgently important infrastructure against special hazards, fundamental for the safeguarding of critical facilities. Yet, because gaseous extinguishing systems are highly pressurised, the risk of leaking and discharging is accepted as part of their use and this is shown in the regulations that demand their upkeep. Make sure, you invest a bit more on ultrasonic monitoring system such as liquid level indicatorto avoid losing such major content of liquefied gas in cylinders.

With fewer, even lower-skilled crew and greater dependence on autonomous machinery, the dependence on fire systems being checked from shore, let alone on the ship in person, will only become greater. Manual weighing is not only labourious, but also dangerous to the crew conducting the servicing. Numerous accounts of incidents have been reported related to manual weighing, but two of the most significant are the injury to 22 US Marines when a halon-containing fire extinguisher went off in 2015, California and the death of 20 people in an accident on a Russian nuclear submarine when a halon extinguishing system was activated by mistake.
Without the means to manually check and with the threat to the crew, constant and remote monitoring becomes vital. It can be argued that the existence of regulation (such as that set by the IMO and other authorities) guides – and occasionally curbs – the direction taken by the free market. This then means that the current state of the market, where ‘price is king’ is either due to unwillingness on the part of the regulators to create an environment where safe engineering is rewarded or because the industry itself is unaware of new technology that will help them meet both the spirit and letter of the regulation.

Ultrasonic Technology is the Solution

Innovative ultrasonic technology enables shore-based operators to monitor agent contents and combine this data into remote diagnostics to alert them when CO2 or clean agent contents have leaked. Advantageous to managers, owners and P&I Clubs who can be provided with data-driven reports for when issues have arisen in order to swiftly resolve them. Advancing ISO14520 & IMO-SOLAS compliance, constantly monitoring liquefied/non-liquefied gaseous extinguishing systems and room integrity. One of the sciences being harnessed by innovators in the fire safety sector is that of Ultrasound. This acoustic (sound) energy releases in the form of waves of high frequency that are above the human audible range. Although the shipping world merely uses it as a tool to gauge thickness, it has seen far more varied use across military, medical and industrial fields. 

Being so advanced, this technology have increased the percentage of accuracy of data hence if installed in form of system, it can keep on updating the data. Keeping a record on such scale, it is easy to compare and check for the leaks in cylinders that are consistently losing component stored in it.

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