Global certification body and classification society DNV GL has issued a report on fire incidents occurring in roll-on / roll-off (Ro-Ro) spaces in a bid to address increasing safety concerns in the sector, and provide guidance to ship owners.

The Ro-Ro vessels are designed to carry wheeled cargo, including cars, trucks, semi-trailer trucks, trailers, and railroad cars, which are driven on and off the ship on their own wheels, or using a platform vehicle.

The DNV GL report, entitled ‘Fires on Ro-Ro Decks’ has examined fires within Ro-Ro spaces on roll-on / roll-off passenger (Ro-Pax) vessels, vehicle carriers and general Ro-Ro cargo vessels.

"Owners and operators should have a clear policy on what cargo and operations they accept in Ro-Ro spaces."

Between 2005 and 2016, the report has identified the occurrence of 35 such fires.

DNV GL maritime fire safety and life-saving principal approval engineer Anders Tosseviken said: "In all cases, the fires were caused by the cargo (cars, trucks etc), or the power connection between the reefer unit and vessel."

The report shows that 18 of the incidents recorded between 2005 and 2016 happened on Ro-Pax vessels, while nine fires were reported on pure car carriers (PCC) and pure car and truck carriers (PCTC), as well as eight reported on cargo Ro-Ro vessels during the same period.

Another paper on Ro-Ro fires, published by DNV GL in 2005, had calculated 25 fires in Ro-Ro spaces between 1990 and 2003.

Tosseviken added: "Owners and operators should have a clear policy on what cargo and operations they accept in Ro-Ro spaces.

"Cargo should be screened, and old and towed second-hand vehicles in particular should be carefully checked before being allowed on-board."

DNV GL also voiced its favour of a policy on reefer units and stated that these units should, if possible, be placed in dedicated areas, such as weather decks, and monitored by closed-circuit television (CCTV). Furthermore, access to Ro-Ro spaces, including open Ro-Ro spaces, should be restricted during voyages according to DNV GL.

Comprehensive crew training and clearly defined procedures for reacting to fire incidents are also required to ensure the quick release of fixed fire-extinguishing systems.

Practical training on the use of the fixed fire extinguishing system should also be employed with company-defined goals for release times.

In order to improve the fire safety of newbuilds with open Ro-Ro spaces, the location of lifeboats and other life-saving equipment, and the location of air intakes for main and emergency power need to be considered carefully, according to DNV GL.

Additionally, DNV GL noted that power circuits serving reefer units should be equipped with ground fault detection systems, which trigger an alarm in a manned control station.

Image: Ro-Ro vessels are designed to carry wheeled cargo. Photo: courtesy of DNV GL AS.