Hansa Brandenburg Fire Highlights Vessel Design Flaws

The Hansa Brandenburg. Photo (c) Ocanada Tiger via Leonhardt & Blumberg
The Hansa Brandenburg. Photo (c) Ocanada Tiger via Leonhardt & Blumberg

By Michael Grey,

This week’s containership fire was located once again in the Indian Ocean, with the Hansa Brandenburg abandoned by her crew, after the container deck stacks ignited and blazed in an exceedingly alarming manner.

One can hardly blame them for evacuating the vessel, with the container stowage immediately forward of the accommodation aboard what might be better described as a geared, multi-purpose vessel, which just happened to be so unlucky as to be carrying containers on deck.

In one of these ships designed by naval architects who had probably never been to sea, the crew of the HB lived in a narrow, multidecked steel tower, perched on the after part of the ship abaft the sternframe.

They had nowhere else to go other than over the side, with the boxes all blazing merrily a few feet forward of where they were living. The incandescent boxes were also stowed strategically over the machinery space, which probably didn’t contribute materially to any efforts to fight the fire.

It makes you wonder. Tankers used to have midships accommodation, but one of the reasons this design was finally rejected and the block moved down aft was said to be that it was sitting on a lot of volatile and flammable cargo. Engineers, who lived aft, used to make tasteless jokes to the mates about their potentially lethal location, hurting their feelings.

Now all the designers of the world’s biggest containerships like to sandwich the crew accommodation between enormous slabs of containers, many of them stuffed with dangerous goods, and some of them probably mis-declared.

I’m not suggesting that it is dangerous, but on the grounds that by the law of averages, these days, one of these monsters will burn, somebody ought perhaps to think about whether they would like to be in the crew’s shoes.

It used to be a criticism of architects of the brutalist school that they would rather die, than live in the grim concrete barracks they themselves had designed . Some of my best friends are naval architects, and maybe they think the same way. But let’s not be harsh. They just do what they are told by the bean counters.

Michael Grey is the former Editor of Lloyd’s List and Fairplay, currently the London Correspondent of BIMCO and holder of a British FG Master’s Certificate. He writes for a wide range of maritime titles and lectures at the World Maritime University, Greenwich Maritime Institute and General Stevedoring Council.

Article originally posted on the Clay Maitland blog, republished with permission.