While the cause of the fire onboard the 15,262 teu Maersk Honam remains unknown Maersk Line say it started in the cargo hold, implying as very often the case the fire started somewhere in the vessel’s cargo. Of particular concern will be the fact the Maersk Honam is by no means some an aging vessel that might have antiquated or poorly maintained fire safety systems. It is a nearly new vessel having been delivered just last year yet the fire in hold has led to one confirmed death, four missing, and two seriously injured.
Warnings over the problems of containership fires have come from the International Union of Marine Insurers, Allianz, the Swedish Club and DNV GL, among others in the recent years. With temperatures reaching in excess of 500 degrees centigrade inside boxes on fire extinguish the blaze is both extremely difficult and dangerous, and the fire can easily spread to other containers and the ship as whole.
As with the Maersk Honam the consequences can be tragic – the fire on the MSC Flaminia in the Atlantic in July 2012 claimed the lives of three crew members – two confirmed dead, and one missing. The insurance costs for both the vessel and cargo can be huge and far out of proportion of the number of claims caused by fire. According to the Swedish Club just 0.76% of cargo claims are due to fire, yet in terms of total costs of claims fire relates to some 28%.
Seatrade Maritime News has compiled a list of some of some of the more notable containership fires in recent years to give some sense of scale of the problem.
MSC Daniela – 4 April 2017 – The crew of the 13,800 teu boxship sent a distress call at around 11am on 4 April last year 120 nm off Sri Lanka, the vessel had to reroute to Colombo and the fire took over 12 hours for Sri Lankan and Indian coastguard and Navy vessels to bring under control.
APL Austria - 12 February, 2017 – The vessel carrying hazardous materials caught fire off the coast of South Africa and was forced to enter Port Elizabeth after the crew sent a distress call. The blaze took two days to bring under control.
Hansa Brandenburg – 19 July 2013 – The 1,740 teu containership caught fire while sailing from Singapore to Durban causing major damage to the aft cargo hold and fore superstructure. After the fire was extinguished the vessel was towed to Mauritius.
Eugen Maersk – 13 June 2013 – Fire broke out on the vessel in the Gulf of Aden enroute to Rotterdam. The Eugen Maersk diverted to the Port of Djibouti where the fire was extinguished on 23 June with 16 containers destroyed by the blaze.
MSC Flaminia – 14 July 2012 – The 6,750 teu vessel suffered a fire in cargo hold four which resulted in an explosion and the crew were forced to abandon ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean some 1,000 nm from the nearest land. The fire claimed the lives of three crew members – two confirmed dead, and one missing. The vessel took two years to return to service.
Hyundai Fortune – 21 March 2016 – The crew of the 5,551 teu ship abandoned ship south of the coast of Yemen after an explosion below deck caused a fire that spread through the vessel. The fire burned for several days and one third of the containers onboard were damaged.