Self-igniting coal has changed the course of history and the demographics of the maritime industry. It led to the explosion of the USS Maine in Havana harbour in 1898, the Spanish-American War, America’s colonisation of the Philippines in its first, and nasty, war in Asia, and indirectly led to today’s Philippines manning industry. Coal remains a problem aboard ship, as the UK P&I Club reminds us in a newly-released checklist for monitoring coal cargo from Indonesia.
Self-heating incidents involving coal cargoes have been problematic for centuries. It was a much-feared hazard in the days of wooden sailing ships, and has continued on since the advent of modern steamships.
The problems associated with carrying coal by sea are today much better understood, says Karl Lumbers, a Director of Thomas Miller P&I Ltd,
“When coal cargo oxidises, it spontaneously generates heat and toxic gases such as carbon monoxide. This can lead to flammable atmospheres in the hold, depletion of oxygen in those spaces and corrosion of metal structures. Lower quality coals such as lignite are more prone to this process than higher quality coals such as anthracite.
“Understanding the quality of coal being shipped and how to monitor it is fundamental to reducing the risk of self-heating, and possibly the outbreak of fire.”