Security market analyst

Author Bio ▼

Hunter Seymour is a security market analyst with expertise in both the fire and security markets.
December 15, 2022


Lithium-Ion batteries. A guide to the fire risk that isn’t going away but can be managed

Marine fires

Burning decks – Complexities in the rising trend of marine fires

Hunter Seymour examines the underlining causes of the rising trend of marine and shipping fires, where human error and unpredictable conditions regularly play a role. In doing so, he also examines key challenges to fire protection and risk assessment for industry professionals, with intelligent, open protocol solutions likely to provide one solution for the future.

The marine firefighting equipment sector is a growth business, with an increasing share of the overall market for fire prevention products to meet global demand. It’s a competitive market that reflects, too, increasing concerns regarding the upsurge in marine fires, particularly a recent rise in engine room fires, indicative of underlying risks around misapplied specifications and questions of crew competencies.

In fact, according to the 2022 Allianz Safety and Shipping analysis of risk trends, the number of marine fires is increasing by almost 10% annually.

However, although the marine fire safety market spans shipping tonnage in ranges up to hundreds of thousands of tonnes, specifiers of marine fire prevention solutions will encounter similar hazards in all vessels, large and small, whose on-board safety they’re called upon to evaluate… so, in this brief overview of current challenges faced by crews – above and below decks – we examine key issues to seek answers of crucial concern.


Credit: Horizon International Images/AlamyStock

Focus on human error

Essentially, 75% of shipping incidents involve human error, a critical threat often compounded by issues such as untrained, time-pressured crew members who take shortcuts; irregular maintenance; infrequent fire drills; noncompliant fire safety routines; with the added complexity of a sector undergoing technological change.

Such a transition means vessels need to be supported by scalable products and systems responsive to keep pace with the realities of new operational standards or upgrades or refit configurations during a lifecycle afloat.

Mitigating the risks

For fire safety professionals and installers, attention to notoriously troublesome high-risk locations will clearly lead you to first principles for completing your on-board assessment. Engine rooms or inboard engines, machinery spaces, housed electronics, galleys, laundry facilities, all present their own site-specific challenges.

In addition, of course, a multitude of stowage-related risks must be considered, ranging from insecure storage on smaller craft to containerisation of cargos in large freight vessels.

Adaptation strategies

Today, the spread of risks for mariners can be measured by the ever-shifting environmental conditions faced by crews when far from shore: storm surges, precipitation, flooding, lightning strikes, extremes of temperature due to climate change, to name a few. These criteria, when combined with operational logistics, have significant impacts on climate-proofing adaptation strategies for fire protection installations.

Beyond these factors, because installation guidelines for the detection and suppression of fire are site-specific, each vessel-class for regulatory assessment will be uniquely defined by parameters such as draught, beam, overall length, gross tonnage, etc. Specifications will be conditioned by the types of structural materials for bulkheads and deckheads that enclose the interior volumes of high-risk sites identified by your fire safety audit.

Unpredictability of waterborne hazards – Water mist system a common choice


Credit: M. Garfat/AlamyStock

With these essential guidelines in mind, choice of marine automatic fire suppression systems is determined on a case-by-case basis, with a water mist system the most common primary means for smothering fire on board, essentially supported by carbon-dioxide release as back-up (in unmanned locations). High pressure CO2 discharge has a high rate of expansion, displacing oxygen to hasten a fire’s extinguishment.

Automatic discharge of suppressants – such as water mist – releases less water than traditional sprinkler systems, which, by delivering high volumes of water, can often affect the stability of the vessel. For example, the 2019 loss of the superyacht Andiamo in Miami, due to candles lit in a temporary blackout, was a disaster worsened by the intensity of too great a volume of hosed water, which caused the vessel to capsize.

The effectiveness of fire hoses is safeguarded by the positioning of powered fire pumps in locations where they are independently powered and controlled by a source outside the engine spaces, with a range and pressure to deliver a jet of water to all areas of the vessel.

Regular drills for firefighting and prevention

Regular safety training for fire pump duties, together with instruction for operating marine firefighting equipment is essential for crew members designated as first responders in the event of a fire alert.

These drills must also include practical guidance in the use of a wide range of onboard fire safety equipment, extending from site-specific fire extinguishers and fire blankets to breathing apparatus and fire-retardant suits for larger vessels.

Predictive strategies to anticipate the variables

Incidents are regularly related to human error or the hazards of unmanned spaces within the vessel and so, therefore, they present a daunting challenge to the expertise of fire professionals who must prepare for a complex and unpredictable series of eventualities.

Kentec, developer and manufacturer of life safety control systems, outlines the challenges:

When the human element remains a potential fire threat, it becomes an imperative for seafarers to anticipate the variables of an emergency event by making certain that robust fire safety systems are in place, particularly given the rise of the unmanned engine-room, where the three basic human senses of sight, smell and touch are absent.”

What are the key challenges?

Only by citing examples of current marine fire scenarios can we begin to understand the sheer scale of the challenges. Here, we present a selection of possible causes of maritime fire events and of the problems they pose. They are merely snapshots and a fraction of the bigger picture:

  • Galleys: Besides issues of pitch and roll and the safety of heated utensils on a hot stove in motion, which require their own protection measures, the proximity of fire blankets and firefighting appliances of the correct specification – grease fire extinguishers – are typical security concerns to be addressed. In the same location, the detection of leaks in gas hoses and connections is a major safety issue.
  • Engine rooms: Leaks are very often the culprit; to correct this occurrence, good maintenance means seals of high pressure fuel oil pipes should not be tightened while the engine is running due to effects of vibration; effective laggings to hot surfaces can significantly upgrade conditions to prevent fire; a routine of strict containment of oily rags in covered bins is an essential precaution; remote monitoring of detectors (flame, smoke, heat) is a core requirement that also enables enhanced remote record-keeping in event of investigation reports.
  • Lithium-ion batteries: Small, electrically powered watercraft, including yacht tenders, are increasingly powered by Lithium-ion batteries. Marine experts warn that they are a potential cause of fire if damaged, overcharged or subjected to high temperatures, so the primary responsibility must be attention to loss prevention, focusing on their storage and transit. Thermal runaway of a Li-ion battery can initiate an unstoppable chain reaction. However, there has not been, as yet, a conclusive view as to whether the fire prevention, detection and suppression measures currently in-place for petrol-fuelled craft are appropriate for newer-battery powered craft – consultation is ongoing.
  • Containerisation: The uncertainty surrounding misdeclaration of containerised cargo remains a major challenge to effective fire precautions on these megaships. Dangerous goods pose a serious fire risk if they are wrongly declared and stowed. The inaccessibility of stacked sealed containers is a major obstacle to fire suppression strategies and onboard firefighting solutions have not consistently kept pace with the increasing sizes of vessels, despite innovative technologies to review cargo manifests and identify dangerous goods.

READ: Lithium-Ion battery fires – Your questions answered

Intelligent marine fire safety – a potential solution?

Nowhere is the application of the latest intelligent marine fire safety technology better illustrated than by Kentec’s Syncro ASM network with Apollo Discovery Marine Detectors, which is specified for vessels ranging from superyachts to commercial vessels up to 500 tonnes and offshore installations. A network of Kentec Syncro ASMs is installed on the Compact Semi-Submersible (CSS) vessel Derwent, a multi-service vessel accommodating up to 152 personnel.

Kentec’s Syncro ASM was chosen because of the ease with which these open protocol fire control panels can be networked with Apollo and Hochiki marine approved detection devices to provide scalable fire alarm systems, suitable for many classes of vessel.


EBOOK: Lessons from FIREX 2023 – Emerging challenges in fire safety

Read our FREE eBook, which provides a summary of the key debates and presentations that took place at FIREX 2023 in May, alongside additional exclusive content for readers.

Chapters cover new fire safety construction guidance, how to mitigate the risk of lithium-ion battery fires, and evacuation planning. There's also exclusive insight into the resident's view of the building safety crisis, and how the fire safety and sustainability agendas can work together.


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