Ship Fire Fighting: How to Handle Cargo Hold Fire Situation


Fire is one of the greatest friends of mankind, yet it is one of the most dangerous enemies as well, and nowhere does it sound more ferocious than when it occurs in the middle of an ocean on a ship carrying some cargo. Well it may sound a bit paradoxical since water and fire normally do not go together well and there is unlimited water supply through the sea on the ship. Yet it is not an easy task to deal with a fire in the cargo hold, or any area of the ship for that matter. In this article we will learn how to deal with a situation when a ship is sailing in the sea and suddenly there is a fire in one of the cargo holds. Before learning about ship fire fighting, I would like to emphasize that any fire situation on board a ship needs to be taken seriously. Just take a look at this picture of what fire can do to a big ship.

Ship Fire

Handling Cargo Hold Fire

Ships are used to transport various types of cargoes which are distributed wisely in the various cargo spaces depending on the exact cargo plan which is prepared by the officer in charge. Normally all precautions are taken to ensure that inflammable cargoes are kept in isolated conditions. For example in case of tankers, the tanks carrying the oil are kept in inert condition by using inert gas supplied by the IG plant on the ship. In dry cargo, there can be cargoes such as cotton which could be highly inflammable.

Let us take an imaginary situation is which a bulk carrier is carrying cotton in various holds and suddenly it is noted that one of the holds is one fire. How would the officers and crew on board react to that situation? Let us find out.

Inform Others

Just remember that despite of the type of emergency on board a ship (this could apply to life on shore as well) is to inform other people of it. This is important because although seemingly the problem may be small for a start, it could soon aggravate and go out of control very quickly. This is very true in case of situations like fire where it can spread within the blink of an eyelid. Hence it is important to inform everybody on board the ship and the general fire alarm is used for that. After that it should also be announced on the public address system of the ship if available.

The blowers to the hold should be turned off immediately if they are ON, since you don’t want to supply fresh oxygen to the fire but deprive the same.

The various personnel of the ship should take their appropriate positions which are already know to everyone by virtue for the fire plan and fire drills which should be conducted regularly. The Captain or Master needs to rush to the bridge to take overall charge of the operations.

Depending on the exact arrangement on the ship, the fire pump can either be started from the bridge itself or the engine room staff do it from the ECR. Even if the pump is started from the bridge, it is a good practice to inform the engine room because sometimes only one generator might be running and that could lead to overloading and blackout on the ship, adding to the confusion.

The position of the ship should be noted and so should be all events that follow. This is important and also the steering can be changed over from auto-pilot to manual steering if the required.

Fighting the Fire

Normally the Chief Officer is in charge of the attack party which carries out operations directly related to extinguishing the fire. He would ensure that the fire flaps of the hold are shut down. Head count should be taken to cross check if anyone hasn’t gone inside the hold.

If the ship is fitted with the CO2 injection system, the same would be activated and released into the appropriate hold and after that the Captain would access the situation and again start moving towards the port, which could be either the initially destined port or some other nearby port.

Important Notes – Discipline & Caution

An important point to remember is that sometimes the damage done by fire is not visible with naked eyes and hence it is always good to send out an urgency signal so that the external world knows about the situation and coordinates of the ship. Sometimes it might so happen that the fire causes some sort of explosion and subsequent flooding, not giving time to think twice and the ship goes down.

Last but not least, discipline and calm is important even in such situations. The orders of the superiors should be followed by the juniors and even if they want to differ or remind the seniors, they should do it in a polite and tactful manner. Then only will the fire fighting be a complete success. Remember there is no other help available in the middle of the ocean except your own calm, cool and collective action apart from a bit of good luck and the Blessings of Mother Nature.