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International Forwarding Association Blog » Sea freight in Europe » Fire Safety Measures Onboard Cargo Ships
Fire Safety Measures Onboard Cargo Ships

Fire Safety Measures Onboard Cargo Ships

It is important that freight forwarders get familiar with fire hazards and safety measures onboard cargo ships so that they are aware of the risks, types of fire, and extinguishing methods that shipping companies use.

Classifying Fire

Based on fuel  or material type, fire falls in 4 categories – class A, B, C, and D. Class A includes solids that are organic, for example, bedding, fabrics, cardboard, paper, and wood.

Sea freight in Europe

Fire in class B is caused by liquefiable solids or liquids such as fats, cooking oils, lubricating oils, and diesel. Gas cargoes, acetylene, and other flammable gases fall under class C. Finally, class D fires occur on rare occasions because they involve metals. They may start at high temperatures and in funnel uptakes and boilers.

Sources of ignition onboard cargo ships include smoking, funnel sparks, spontaneous combustion, and welding. Other sources are static electricity, sparks from impact, and electrical sparks from loose connections and damaged equipment. Heat from convection, conduction, and radiation can also cause fire.


In engine rooms, risks can be divided into class B, C, and D. Class B includes combustible and flammable liquids such as alcohol, mineral spirits, paints, lacquers, oil, and gasoline. Energized electrical equipment is a class C hazard while class D includes potassium, sodium, magnesium, and other combustible materials. Class A and class K or F are risks in accommodation areas. Class F involves grease, fat, and cooking oil and class A – paper, cloth, wood, and other materials in rooms and other accommodation spaces.

Different vessels are associated with different risks, including LNG carriers, chemical and oil tankers, general cargo vessels, ro-ro cargo vessels, and container ships.

Extinguishing Methods

Shipping companies that specialize in sea freight in Europe use different methods based on 4 principles – breaking chemical reactions, fuel removal, smothering, and cooling. Halon and other gases can be used to break or disrupt chemical reactions. Another method involves turning off supply or eliminating combustible materials as to remove fuel. Smothering refers to oxygen being eliminated with the help of dry powder, carbon dioxide, or foam. Cooling involves the use of water to extinguish fire.

Preventing Fire Onboard

To prevent fire onboard, it is important to only use approved equipment, whether laptops, CD players, and radios with adapters and transformers.  Always check with the Master to ensure that the equipment in use is approved. Combustible materials and clothing must not be kept on hot systems and equipment and radiators. Gases, chemicals, and other combustible materials must be stored as per the shipper’s or manufacturer’s instructions. When flammable materials such as solvents, paints, and oils are used, they must be wipe cleaned and removed.

Only authorized staff is allowed to use galley equipment which must be switched off when not in use. The same goes for electric irons, laundry equipment, and other appliances. Any suspicious signs, smells, and possible hazards must be immediately reported to the officer in charge. Having regular safety rounds is also important.