Once upon a time they were called ‘second-hand’ but today it’s fashionable to call them ‘pre-loved’ – old cars and trucks. Unfortunately they come with an increased risk of fire when being transported to their last resting place as the fire aboard the DFDS ro-ro ferry Corona Seaways.
At 0215 on 4 December 2013, a fire was discovered on the main deck of Corona Seaways while the vessel was on passage from Fredericia to Copenhagen, Denmark. The crew mustered, closed the ventilation louvres, established boundary cooling and operated the fixed CO2 fire-extinguishing system.
Although smoke continued to escape from the louvres, steady temperatures in the vicinity of the fire indicated that the CO2 had been effective in controlling it. At 0640, the vessel entered the Swedish port of Helsingborg, where assistance was provided
by the local Fire and Rescue Service.
The vessel suffered light structural damage and the loss of some minor electrical supplies. Three vehicles and six trailers were severely fire-damaged and other vehicles suffered minor radiant heat damage. The fire was caused by an electrical
defect on one of the vehicles’ engine starting system.
A Renault Premium 250.18 truck had been driven about 240km before arriving at Fredericia and then onto the vessel. Neither the drivers nor stevedores reported any mechanical, electrical or instrumentation issues. However, the truck had not been driven for the previous 11 months and there was no evidence that any checks had been carried out to prove its roadworthiness or general safety, including the integrity of its electrical and mechanical systems.
Existing damage to a battery cable meant that even though the vehicle was parked with the key in the ignition in the Stop/Park position an electrical short, with resultant heating, could still occur, as seems to have happened in this case.
MAIB’s report on the incident says: “The carriage of used vehicles and equipment that do not have appropriate road worthiness certification and whose history and condition are unknown, brings increased risks when compared with the carriage of well maintained vehicles that are in regular use“.
Although DFDS has fire risk control systems in place that might have prevented such a vehicle fire these oly applied to dedicated car transporters not to ro-ro ferries. Says MAIB: “Contrary to the spirit of the MCA’s Code of Practice and the master’s ‘Unsafe Cargo’ notice, there was no evidence that the vessel’s crew carried out vehicle safety checks. Neither the SSMM nor the onboard risk assessments covered the carriage of used vehicles and equipment”.
MAIB also noted: Injection of CO2 into the main deck was delayed, allowing the fire to develop, because it took time to establish the fitter’s whereabouts during the crew muster. The reason why the CO2 fire-extinguishing system apparently failed to discharge the allotted quantity of CO2 as designed remains unexplained. The main deck ventilation louvres were not fully closed and some of the crew were unaware how to correctly operate them. This allowed air (oxygen) to feed the fire and potentially affected the CO2 concentration levels needed to extinguish the fire. The cargo deck ventilation fans were not operated as required by the current regulations. This increased the fire risk due to the potential build-up of flammable
vapours from vehicles.