Maersk Says New Dangerous Goods Guidelines to Improve Containership Safety After Maersk Honam Fire

maersk honam fire damage
Maersk Honam fire in the Arabian Sea.

The world’s top shipping line Maersk has implemented new guidelines on the stowage of dangerous goods after a review of its safety procedures in the aftermath of the devastating Maersk Honam fire back in March.

The shipping company says the new guidelines will improve safety across its fleet of container vessels.

“Following the tragic fire aboard Maersk Honam in March this year, Maersk took measures and implemented additional preliminary guidelines for stowage of dangerous goods,” Maersk said in a press release announcing the guidelines. “The company evaluated over 3,000 United Nations (UN) numbers of hazardous materials in order to further understand and improve dangerous cargo stowage onboard container vessels and developed a new set of principles called Risk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage.”

Working with the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS), Maersk held a workshop with other industry representatives to conduct a comprehensive Hazard Identification study that validated the new guidelines. Maersk has now now implemented the guidelines across Maersk Line’s fleet of more than 750 vessels.

In March of this year, five crew members of the Ultra Large Container Vessel (ULCV) Maersk Honam were killed when a major fire started in a forward cargo hold of the ship. Maersk said that although dangerous goods were present in the cargo hold where the fire originated, there was no evidence to suggest that dangerous goods had caused the fire, and as of today Maersk is still awaiting the investigation to establish the root cause of the fire.

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“All cargo aboard Maersk Honam was accepted as per the requirements of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code and stowed onboard the vessel accordingly. Despite this, as the fire originated in a cargo hold in front of the accommodation which held several containers with dangerous goods, it had an unbearably tragic outcome,” says Ole Graa Jakobsen, Head of Fleet Technology at Maersk.

“This clearly showed us that the international regulations and practices with regards to dangerous goods stowage needs to be reviewed in order to optimally protect crew, cargo, environment and vessels.”

Maersk said the new guidelines, which it calls theRisk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage principles, have been developed with the aim of minimising risk to crew, cargo, environment and vessel in case a fire develops. “The different container vessel designs were reviewed from a risk mitigation perspective and ultimately six different risk zones defined,” Maersk explains. 

“Cargo covered under the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code will no longer be stowed next to accommodation and main propulsion plant which is defined as the zone with the lowest risk tolerance. Similarly, risk tolerance will be low below deck and in the middle of the vessel, whereas the risk tolerance will be higher on deck fore and aft. Utilising statistics on container fires in the Cargo Incident Notification System (CINS), Maersk defined which UN numbers can be stored in each risk zone,” said Maersk. 

Maersk will continue to review its rules and policies for accepting dangerous goods and assess how to further improve them. Together with other members of the CINS, Maersk said it seeking to channel these experiences into developing new industry best practices.

Denmark-based Maersk has also presented Risk Based Dangerous Goods Stowage to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) as well as the Danish Maritime Authorities.

“Container ship fires are a problem for our entire industry and we intend to share and discuss our learnings from this thorough review within relevant industry forums. We very much believe that discussions, views and insights among container carriers can further improve fire safety in our industry,” says Ole Graa Jakobsen. “We aim for long term improvements by reviewing our systems and then designing an end-to-end process that is safe for our seafarers and smooth for our customers.”

In the coming months, a review aimed at creating best management practices for dangerous goods stowage will be undertaken with help from ABS, Lloyds Register, the International Group of PandI Clubs, National Cargo Bureau, the TT Club and Exis Technologies. Once the project is completed the best management practices will be published and presented to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).