Sailing upwind, with the first reef in the main and full headsail, averaging 7.5 knots and the bright blue ocean ready to greet you, looking like a perfect weekend getaway for many, yachting seems to be the holiday of the hour.
A yacht, as everyone knows, is a sailing vessel used for pleasure, cruising or racing. They come in varying sizes and are accordingly classified as large, Super, Mega and Giga yachts. Although, anything over 40M is marketed as a Superyacht, they are generally
over 50M (average LOA of Superyacht: 52M) in practice. Megayachts and Gigayachts are terms applied to 100M plus yachts.
Being surrounded by water, fire on a boat might not seem like a worry but it is a very real threat, to both the boat as well as the passengers. A majority of yachts are made of fiberglass and today’s fiberglass/ composite boats burn very quickly, producing large volumes of toxic smoke that is equally as dangerous.
FIRES IN SUPER YATCHS: WHY IS IT HAPPENING?
“Brand new super yacht on fire, another sank, what’s wrong with super yachts?”
The above is a headline from just over a week ago. A brief google search will bring to light that hardly a day passes without the occurrence of fires in Superyachts. In many cases, when a boat catches fire and it is in a marina, there are numerous boats downwind from it. The fire will spread rapidly, and in many cases, disaster is avoided by hauling the flaming yacht out to sea.
The string of yacht fires raises the question: What is it about these multi-million dollar investments that make them so susceptible to fire? This is a question with several possible answers. Let us dive into those.
Faulty connections, wiring damage due to salt water and amateur repairs can cause electrical fires and this is the number one cause for yacht fires. Luxury yachts tend to have a lot of electrical equipment on board from air conditioners to navigational aids to entertainment
systems. Also, if a boat’s battery is not secured correctly, it can cause a fire.
Electrical fires can also be purely random. The below is a statement from a marine surveyor:
“I have seen a fire that occurred because of a construction worker nailing down planking on a dock,” recalled Joe Lobley, a Maine-based marine surveyor. “One of the nails went through and hit a wire. There’s a lot of variables there.” (Source: www.livemint.com).
ISSUES IN FUEL SYSTEM AND GALLEY FIRES
Failures in fuel oil systems are also common fire hazards. Ranging from engine room fires due to over pressurization of fuel tanks to fuel leaks, there are many fuel system issues which can be common origins for yacht fires. Gasoline and diesel fuel are highly flammable, so even a tiny leak can lead to disastrous consequences.
Yachts, super or not, cannot survive on irregular maintenance schedules. Regular checks on the engine, electrical and fuel system are mandatory.
Due to the nature of superyachts to be used mainly for recreational purposes, there are chances of having less experienced crew on-board. This leads to a higher incidence of accidents and fires.
LACK OF REGULATORY REQUIREMENTS
All the safety regulations that are followed by merchant or cargo ships are to be observed on luxury yachts, and even more so since there is an added responsibility of human lives. But in many cases, these tend to be overlooked.
As mentioned previously, most super yachts are made of fibreglass, which many believe to be fire resistant. However, they still melt and release toxic fumes which is also harmful for the environment.
Now, to put it in mathematical terms, here are some numbers:
- 26% of fires are caused by “Off-Boat” sources
- 20% of fires are due to “Engine Electrical”
- 15% of fires are due to “Other DC Electrical”
- 9% of fires are due to “Other Engine”
- 8% of fires are due to “Batteries”
- The remainder are galley fires, petrol filling, smoking etc.
The below casualty type distribution of the cost gives a better perspective of the effects of such fire damages in yachts.
Based on the rules laid by the SOLAS convention, safety measures for luxury boats comprise of three primary areas:
- Safety during operation
- Safety in navigation
- Safety equipment
In this article, we will mainly deal with safety during operation which concerns avoidance and handling of fires or explosion on-board such luxury yachts.
To ensure operational safety against fire hazards, all the people on the yacht should undergo at least a basic training session for fighting fires at sea. They should familiarise with the operation of the equipment for fighting fires and every person should be assigned a particular responsibility in case of an unfortunate incident so as to avoid chaos and panic. Fire safety drills are also a must-have.
Another possible cause is human errors due to lack of training, especially in self-managed yachts when a qualified crew is not present. Crew familiarisation and training must be a mandate before sailing massive superyachts out to sea.
Complying with yacht fire protection protocols is incredibly important for safety and legal reasons both. From 2019, all new yachts must comply with the REG Yacht Code. The onus is on fire retardant service providers to ensure that their treatment on board REG Ensign certified vessels complies with the MGN 453, soon to be MGN 580. However, during inspection yachts will be asked to produce fire certificates to evidence that they are compliant.
Non-compliance of any of the required rules, standards or protocols can result in a vessel being detained until any fault or deficiency found is rectified (this obviously depends on the seriousness of the deficiency). Vessels are now being checked when entering ports for their certification and, depending on the port and country, vessels can be prevented from sailing, depending on the severity of the non-compliance.
Maintenance problems are another factor that comes into picture when talking about safety. There are numerous elements that can cause fires or physical harm if neglected or not maintained properly.
Despite all precautions, if a fire does indeed break out, the crew not only needs the training but also the right equipment to handle the disaster. Portable fire extinguishers are the best option for the job.
Even as you prepare for the worst, it is said prevention is always better than the cure. With the complication of on-board fuel storage and so many variables to consider, it seems like an impossible task to prevent every scenario of fuel fire. And this is where ATOM comes in.
ATOM enables on-board explosion protection and loss prevention through customised fuel storage that suppresses explosions within the fuel tanks. Moreover, with the increased transition to LPG bunkering, specialised infrastructure will be required for supply, storage, and fuel delivery to ships. ATOM’s solutions are designed to guarantee explosion-safe operation of bunkering vessels and truck tankers as well.
It is possible to prevent fuel explosions to a great extent when a standard safety system is universally adopted for fuel storage and transportation. At ATOM, we deliver sector-specific solutions across a range of industries for fuel storage, transportation, and delivery.
ATOM is an internationally certified patented Explosion Prevention system that works across industries to deliver safety solutions for fuel storage, transportation and delivery. If you are seeking preventive solutions tailored to meet the industry’s complexities that secure your workplace and resources from fuel tank explosions, we can introduce you to high-quality solutions that are compliant with international regulation standards and will upgrade your fuel safety to the highest levels. To secure your fuel storage from explosion, get in touch with us today!
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