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The International Marine

Contractors Association

Fires in Machinery Spaces

on DP Vessels


IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

July 2003


The International Marine Contractors Association

(IMCA) is the international trade association
representing offshore, marine and underwater
engineering companies.
IMCA promotes improvements in quality, health, safety,
environmental and technical standards through the publication
of information notes, codes of practice and by other
appropriate means.
Members are self-regulating through the adoption of IMCA
guidelines as appropriate. They commit to act as responsible
members by following relevant guidelines and being willing to be
audited against compliance with them by their clients.
There are two core committees that relate to all members:

Safety, Environment & Legislation

Training, Certification & Personnel Competence

The Association is organised through four distinct divisions,
each covering a specific area of members interests: Diving,
Marine, Offshore Survey, Remote Systems & ROV.
There are also four regional sections which facilitate work on
issues affecting members in their local geographic area
Americas Deepwater, Asia-Pacific, Europe & Africa and Middle
East & India.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

The original DPVOA document Engine Room Fires on DP
Vessels (119 DPVOA), prepared by Global Maritime and
published in 1994, outlined the key elements in engine room fire
prevention, containment and fire fighting. It highlights areas
where relatively simple improvements can greatly help the fire
containment and fire fighting responses. The report mostly
draws on experience from fires on DP vessels and investigative
The report strongly recommended that the chief engineer
together with the ECR watchkeeping engineers work out a fire
alarm response procedure for all operational situations
particularly if this response is to be different when working on
This new document was prepared for IMCA, under the
direction of its Marine Division Management Committee, by
Wavespec to review the issues raised in that report, and
relevant parts of it have been incorporated into the new
This document supersedes 119 DPVOA, which is now

The information contained herein is given for guidance only and endeavours to
reflect best industry practice. For the avoidance of doubt no legal liability shall
attach to any guidance and/or recommendation and/or statement herein contained.

Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels



Background ..........................................................................................................1

Introduction .........................................................................................................2

Regulations and Guidance ..................................................................................3

Likelihood and Risk of Engine Room Fires ......................................................4

Engine Room Fire Case Studies .........................................................................6


Case Study 1........................................................................................................ 6

Case Study 2........................................................................................................ 6
Case Study 3........................................................................................................ 7
Case Study 4........................................................................................................ 7
Case Study 5........................................................................................................ 8
Case Study 6........................................................................................................ 8
Case Study 7........................................................................................................ 8

Methods of Preventing Fires...............................................................................9

Methods of Detecting Fires ...............................................................................11


Methods of Extinguishing Fires .......................................................................14


Fire Detection Systems ..................................................................................... 11

Machinery Space Oil Mist Monitoring ............................................................. 12
Crankcase Oil Mist Detection ........................................................................... 13

CO2 Systems...................................................................................................... 16
Situation regarding the use of Halon................................................................. 16
Portable Fire Extinguishers ............................................................................... 17
Fixed Water Based Fire Extinguishing Systems ............................................... 17
Fixed Aerosol Fire Extinguishing Systems....................................................... 18
Local Fire Fighting Systems ............................................................................. 18
Shore Based Fire Fighting Resources ............................................................... 18

Personnel Experience and Training.................................................................19


Experience......................................................................................................... 19
Training............................................................................................................. 20


Experience and Viewpoints of IMCA Members.............................................21


Lessons Learned ................................................................................................22



Fuel Oil Piping ................................................................................................. 22

Checking the Fire Alarm................................................................................... 22
Ventilation Shut Down...................................................................................... 23
Cable Routes ..................................................................................................... 23
Progress of the Fire ........................................................................................... 23
Summary of recommendations ........................................................................ 24

Useful Sources of Information..........................................................................26

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels



DPVOA issued the original document entitled Engine Room Fires on DP Vessels in
1994, at which time it was apparent that few DP vessel operators had established
procedures for response in the event of an engine room fire. This was potentially
serious where the operational status of the vessel at the time meant that ship power had
to be retained for making safe the work site, recovering divers or ROVs, or ensuring the
safety of drilling activities, possibly in heavy weather conditions. The purpose of the
DPVOA document was to disseminate the potential hazards to a wider audience and
draw attention to the need for prevention and detection of engine room fires, and for the
correct and adequate training of the ships personnel to ensure the right actions were
taken as early as possible.
Wavespec was instructed by IMCA to refresh that document, to update it with lessons
learned from any more recent incidents, to deal with references to halon and with any
general editing. This document is thus a contemporary version of 119 DPVOA. Parts
of the original version by Global Maritime that are still pertinent, and not now covered
by rules and regulations that have evolved since 1994, are included in an annex.
Since 1994 there have been many technical developments in both fire detection and fire
extinguishing systems, and there is also a wider appreciation of the benefits to be gained
by paying greater attention to preventing fires from occurring. The prevention of fires
has particular benefits on DP vessels, where the operational consequences of shutting
down the engine room will probably be more serious than on standard cargo ships.
Most of the information sources accessed during the preparation of this new document
draw attention to the obvious fact that fire prevention is infinitely more cost effective
than putting out the fire, and much safer for the ships crew.
As stated in the following introduction, this document does not go into the detail of all
the international fire safety regulations and rules that have to be designed into a modern
offshore vessel. It is intended to give readers an overview of the subject and make it
clear how they should look at the risks and hazards associated with the occurrence of
machinery space fires offshore. Because the industry is continually changing, there will
be technology and operational factors introduced in the next few years that will overtake
some of the views expressed below. Therefore, it is recommended that readers access
some of the references given in this document and keep themselves abreast of future
This new document incorporates some material from the original, but fire system
technology has moved on since 1994 and the advantage has been taken to rearrange the
basic layout of the document. As well as an outline of the current international
legislation covering engine room and machinery space fires, we have tried to address
the risk assessment and management process that operators have to apply when
considering fires on board their ships. We have included a number of case studies,
which give examples of fire incidents, but also draw attention to the advice issued by
authorities as a result of these incidents. The remainder of the document discusses the
methods of, firstly, preventing fires from occurring, and then how to detect and
extinguish them. Wherever possible, the readers attention is drawn to useful guidance
and sources of information available in the public domain.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels



In reality, a DP vessel is no different from any other ship in terms of fire prevention and
fire fighting, except where DP Class 3 is concerned. The protection of all ships is
covered by the regulations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)
International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea 1974 (SOLAS) and subsequent
amendments which are in force when the ship is built. SOLAS regulations are usually
updated at four year intervals, and the later additions are normally only applied to new
DP Class 3 vessels are different from most other commercial ships because the ships
structure and the systems related to dynamic positioning are designed and installed so as
to permit any one compartment or space to be put out of action by fire or flooding
without affecting the ability of the ship to hold station. However, in practice this is not
likely to alter the extent of fire protection provided, and the regulations are applied in
exactly the same way as those for other vessels.
It is not intended in this document to go into the detail of the fire regulations, as it is
assumed that readers have access to IMO publications and other documents. The ISM
code requires that each ship be provided with a safety management system (SMS) that
includes procedures for response to emergency situations. IMCA members who
responded to a questionnaire on this subject indicated that they all included an engine
room fire situation in their Emergency Response Procedures.
In his recent and definitive book on Fire Safety at Sea1, which the reader of this
document is recommended to consult, Dr Cowley states that machinery spaces are, by
their very nature, the most susceptible of all shipboard compartments to serious fires.
Although few people are normally present in engine rooms, and therefore consequences
may be less serious in terms of loss of life than fires in passenger or crew
accommodation, there have been many instances of fires occurring on ships under repair
where very large numbers of workers may be involved.
Dr Cowley points out that the protection of machinery spaces, including engine rooms,
is based on safe operating practices resulting from a combination of regulations and
industry recommendations. Since these are being constantly updated and new
regulations are constantly introduced, the prudent ship operator should keep abreast of
all the relevant documentation on a regular basis.
A recent report by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) into a fire
onboard the high speed ferry Stena Explorer in 2001 demonstrates the old maxim that
prevention is better than cure. The fire resulted from the ignition of oil leaking from a
failed compression pipe fitting on a generator engine in an unmanned machinery space
(see Case Study 4). At the time of writing the UK has submitted a paper to the IMO
proposing guidance on the installation of oil mist detection systems in machinery spaces
on ships. Those ships where such systems are fitted would hope not to have to rely on
fire detection systems to alert their crews to the disastrous consequences of a fuel oil
We recommend that IMCA members distribute this document to their ships, to stimulate
debate and to allow the ships management teams to review their procedures.

Fire Safety at Sea, MEP Series, Vol 1 Pt 5, Dr James Cowley, IMarEST 2002

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Regulations and Guidance


All ships are subject to the regulations and rules established by the International
Maritime Organization (IMO) and enforced by the ships registration flag state and the
classification society under whose rules the ship was constructed and classed.
In addition, ships and their crew are able to take advantage of guidance issued by IMO,
classification societies, P&I clubs, other non-government organisations (NGOs) and
industry bodies.
The dominant source of such legislation and guidance relating to fires on ships is the
Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) of the IMO, and its requirements are contained in
SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) as currently amended. Other guidance is contained in
IMO Resolutions and MSC Circulars, which are issued at frequent intervals to clarify
the requirements and to update them as necessary. Once IMO resolutions have been
ratified by the members of IMO they are normally codified by Flag State governments
into statutes that are imposed on ships under their jurisdiction.
All SOLAS requirements that relate to the prevention and extinguishing of fires in
engine rooms are included in Chapter II-2 of the SOLAS document, and the flag state
laws and classification society rules normally conform to these requirements. In this
document the SOLAS requirements are quoted or referred to as appropriate under the
various headings. The IMO resolutions are also referred to where they add to an
understanding and interpretation of the relevant rules.
Machinery spaces are classified in SOLAS Chapter II-2 as being Category A, (see
Regulation 3.30, 3.31) and these include spaces which contain oil-fired equipment other
than boilers, such as inert gas generators and incinerators.
The final ratified form of the revised SOLAS 74 Chapter II-2 came into force on 1st July
2002, as a result of IMO resolutions MSC 99(73) and MSC 98(73). The revised chapter
is in seven parts covering general requirements and definitions, requirements for
prevention, fire fighting, escape and operation, alternative designs and specific rules.
Each regulation has been divided into subsections applicable to different onboard areas,
in which the requirements for all types of vessel are set out: with further paragraphs
specifying any additional requirements for particular vessel types. Each regulation
applies to all types of vessel, unless it is explicitly excluded.
Fire protection in the new Chapter II-2 is based primarily on the risks likely to be
encountered in the different areas, for example, engine rooms. The new Chapter II-2 is
supported by the Fire Safety System (FSS) Code, which details the specifications
required for all the fire protection systems and equipment. These are performance based
and allow for alternative or equivalent solutions to be put forward, which was not the
case with the previous regulations.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Likelihood and Risk


Two relevant reviews of fires on board ships, one by the classification society DNV and
the other by the P&I mutual Swedish Club, give some statistics on the probability of
occurrence of fires in engine rooms and of their consequences.
The Swedish Club states that over the period between 1988 and 1996 its members made
25 claims for engine room fires, at an average cost of USD 2 million for each incident.
This may not sound many, considering the Club covers over 1,000 ships, but relates
specifically to serious fires; as minor fires would not have resulted in a claim. The most
common cause was leakage of oil under pressure from fatigue cracking of pipes, fittings
and valves, combined with the oil coming into contact with hot surfaces. Oil leakage
can also result from using non-approved or non-metallic pipes and hoses, opening filters
without de-pressurising the system or overflows from bunker tank filling.
Exhaust gas piping and turbochargers are the most common sources of hot surface
ignition, and should always be lagged. Lagging should always be replaced after repairs
and maintenance, or when a leak has caused saturation of the lagging with oil. Quick
closing fuel oil valves have been found not to operate correctly in some cases, and must
be properly maintained. In addition, switchboard fires are often a result of overheated
contactors or cable connections.
The Swedish Clubs website includes an Engine Room Fire Prevention Checklist
(www.swedishclub.com/lossprevention/fires/checklist.htm) that can be used by the crew
to assist them in carrying out a regular check of fire safety on board.
Similarly, a DNV brochure on the subject of Engine room fires can be avoided
(available at www.dnv.com/maritime/shipclassification/newbuilding/fire_safety) claims
that over 60% of fires on ships start in the engine room, that the direct cost of a fire can
be upwards of USD 1 million, and that a shipowner operating 20 vessels can expect a
major engine room fire every 10 years. DNV classify over 5,000 ships, comprising
16% of the worlds tonnage. Their statistics, which are based on a survey of 165 fires
on DNV classed ships between 1992 and 1997, show that a combination of oil leakages
and hot surfaces causes 56% of engine room fires, while the other causes are boiler
incidents (14%), component failures (14%), electrical (9%) and hotwork (7%).
One of the generalities which can be deduced from a study of engine room fires is that
the tidiness, or otherwise, of the space will affect the ability of a fire to spread and the
effectiveness of the fire fighting capability. A clean engine room, including one in
which oil residues are not allowed to accumulate, is less likely to spread a fire and will
make access to the source of the fire easier for firefighters. Naturally, this tidiness
applies to hidden areas, such as bilges, as well as open areas of the engine room.
Once a fire has started and cannot be locally extinguished within an engine room then
the procedure is generally to stop the supply of oxygen (air) and fuel, and then to
attempt boundary cooling and flooding the space with a fire fighting gas, such as CO2.
There are several hazards that can prevent the success of these operations:

The air receivers for start air and working air are frequently placed in the engine
room, and it has been noted that on some vessels the relief valves can vent directly
into the machinery space. In the event of a fire these relief valves will open due to
the heat expansion of the receiver contents. If the relief valve does not reset, a
large volume of air will be released into the space. In addition, some receivers

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Likelihood and Risk

have fusible plugs that are designed to fail at high temperature and there may be
compressed air leaks anywhere in the engine room.

In accordance with class requirements quick closing valves (QCVs) are installed
with remote actuation facilities on all service and setting tanks. However, it has
been noted that, on vessels which have fuel systems for both IFO and diesel fuel,
it is possible that fuel continues to feed the fire after shutting the QCVs from the
head and volume in the degassing units, which have no quick-close valve fitted.

As pointed out above, spread of a fire is assisted by "bad house-keeping", i.e.

oily bilges, accumulated rubbish and oil impregnated pipe lagging. In general, DP
vessels that are inspected frequently do not have large rubbish accumulations, but
there are reservoirs of oil, cleaning fluids and paint from maintenance and
cleaning work carried out in port. Sometimes these are not cleared out at

Shutting down ventilation systems is always a problem. The design of the

ventilation shut down is invariably a mixture of automatic, remote shut down and
manual local closure of vents. With a single engine room it is quite obvious that
all have to be closed. With a redundant DP vessel, with two or more machinery
spaces, only the correct ones should be closed and in the stress of the moment it is
easy to shut down a healthy engine room.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Case Studies


The following case studies concerning engine room fires are taken from research data
gathered during the preparation of this document, and mostly relate to incidents
occurring or investigated during a short period of a few months. They involve many
different types of ship, only one an offshore vessel and not with DP, but the incidents
they describe could just as easily happen in any ships engine room.

Case Study 1
DNVs Classification News No. 3/2001 describes an incident where a serious
engine room fire was caused on a 1996 built products tanker through the
bursting of a fuel injection pipe on the main engine. The oil sprayed onto a hot
exhaust manifold and ignited, but was not immediately alarmed due to
ventilation directing the smoke away from the fire detector. The engine room
was evacuated and the CO2 system released within 11 minutes of the fire alarm,
and the fire was confirmed as extinguished after half an hour. There had been an
earlier fuel pipe failure shortly before this incident, after which the fuel pipe
protective covers had not been replaced, so the cause of the fire was a
combination of factors partly operational. DNVs advice on the lessons to be
learned from this are:

Special safety procedures should be applied when doing repairs or

maintenance affecting fire safety;

Fitting bolts for fuel injection pipes should be regularly checked for

Fuel pipes should be regularly inspected and replaced as necessary;

Fire detectors should be properly located and confirmed to work properly

in normal ventilation conditions.


Case Study 2
A Fishing Vessel Safety Alert issued by the USCG describes an engine room
fire caused by a loose fitting which sprayed lube oil onto a hot engine
turbocharger, in which the crew had to abandon their boat. While the
circumstances of the spread of the fire and the lack of extinguishing facilities
would not be pertinent to the DP vessels of IMCA members, the list of
recommendations issued by the USCG is true for all engine room situations: and
many are mandatory requirements for seagoing vessels. These are:

Isolate fuel, hydraulic and lube oil lines from heat sources (e.g.

If lines burst or fittings work loose, spray shields or sleeves can prevent
flammable liquids hitting hot surfaces;

Routinely inspect fuel lines for tightness, wear or corrosion and change if

Minimise or avoid using external gauges for fuel tanks;

Ensure engine room fuel line and ventilation shutdowns are operational;

Do not store oily cardboard, rags or waste in the engine room;

Do not hang clothes or other gear to dry in the engine room.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels


Case Studies

Case Study 3
Following a fishing trawler fire in 2000, the Maritime Safety Authority of New
Zealand issued a Ship Notice2 in which it analysed the results of 130 engine
from fires since 1993, and found that over 40 of these were the direct result of
fuel oil spraying onto the main engine exhaust or turbocharger. As a result it
issued the following guidance:

Inspect high pressure fuel lines regularly for signs of wear or damage;

All securing points for high pressure fuel lines should be checked for
tightness at least every 500 operating hours;

Replacement pipework must be fitted in accordance with manufacturers


Check the engine room for all possible ignition sources of leaking fuel,
such as exhausts, and where practicable guard these with fire retardant

Ensure that remote shutoff valves and trip wires for fuel tanks and forced
draught fans are regularly checked and overhauled;

Keep at least one portable extinguisher as close as possible to the engine

room entrance;

Regularly test all fire fighting equipment and ensure the crew is trained
in its use;

Display up to date muster lists so all crew are aware of their position and
duty in the event of an emergency;


Hold regular emergency drills and record in the log book.

Case Study 4
As stated in the Introduction, in February 2003 the UKs Marine Accident
Investigation Branch (MAIB) issued the results of its study3 into a fire onboard a
high speed ferry that occurred in 2001 while the ferry was entering port at low
speed with 551 passengers and 56 crew onboard. The fire alarm sounded
indicating a fire in the port auxiliary engine room, which was unmanned, and 30
seconds later the ships entire CCTV system failed. The significance of the
second event is that the ship was in the process of docking and normally relied
on the CCTV to give overall visibility on the bridge of the ships approach to the
berth. The water mist fire extinguishing system was activated, although the port
pontoon engine rooms were not shutdown due to the berthing operation: the
water mist continued to be applied until after the vessel had berthed and the fire
brigade had arrived, when they confirmed the fire was out.
The MAIB stated that the fire was caused by the failure of a compression fitting
on an element of the fuel piping of the aft generator in the port pontoon. The
failure allowed gas oil to be pumped out over the running engine, where it came
into contact with the exposed hot surface of the engines turbocharger unit, and

Maritime Safety Authority of New Zealand Ship Notice 04/2000 December Engine Room Fires
Caused by Leaking Fuel Oil Lines
Report on the investigation of the fire on board HSS Stena Explorer entering Holyhead 20 September
2001, MAIB Report No. 5/2003, February 2003
IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Case Studies

was ignited. The accident highlights the dangers associated with the continued
use of compression fittings in the fuel systems of diesel engines. Their
recommendations include:


Reminder to all owners and operators to review risk assessments

regarding hot surfaces and the screening of fuel fittings where
compression fittings are used;

Request the IMO to consider a ban on the use of compression fittings in

fuel lines on diesel engines;

Advising the diesel engine manufacturer to supply a gauge to its agents,

fitters and customers, for checking the correct installation of the pig-tail
pipe fittings.

Case Study 5
In November 2002 a tanker was reported to have suffered total engine power
loss as a result of activating the CO2 system to extinguish a fire in its engine
room, caused by overheated cabling to its emergency generator. No doubt the
original incident was relatively minor and should have been detected, but the age
of the cabling and fire detection systems (the ship was 24 years old) would have
contributed to the reason for the fire, and the consequences of the incident were


Case Study 6
In November 2002 a well founded and operated LPG vessel was reported ablaze
off Hong Kong after a burst oil pipe apparently sprayed oil on the engine
exhaust system and burnt out of control. This fire somehow spread outside the
engine room and, at one point, threatened to ignite the cargo. The local marine
department stated that the ships staff failed to deal with the emergency
successfully and made some mistakes operating the fire extinguishing system,
allowing the fire to get out of control. Fortunately, the fire burnt itself out with
some assistance from salvors.


Case Study 7
In December 2002 a modern seismic survey vessel sank off Trinidad after a fire
broke out in the engine room. The ships owner stated at the time that the
accidental fire was so strong they could not stop it, but no further details have
been published to date. If a fully crewed modern seismic vessel, in full
compliance with IMO regulations, can fall victim to such a sudden engine room
fire it should serve as a cautionary tale to all ship crews.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Methods of Preventing Fires


In a well designed ship all machinery spaces should be fire resistant. In 1996 the
Helsinki University of Technologys Ship Laboratory published a study4 into methods
and means of improving the level of fire resistance in engine rooms. Although the
report is in Finnish, Pentii Hakkinen presented a paper in London in 1997 in which he
stated that fire safety in engine rooms is the result of both good design and correct
crew operations.
He went on to point out that, whenever either of the above factors is missing or
deficient, the risk of fire increases. The Helsinki University study concentrated on
analysing many fires and identifying where improvements can be obtained without
significant cost increase. The following sequential criteria apply to the general
principles of fire safety:

Fire ignition must be prevented. However, where this is not achieved and a fire
starts, an alarm must be generated immediately.

As well as alerting the crew, the alarm should also initiate further action (i.e.
automatic extinguishing or shutdown.

Fire suppression should be rapid, appropriate and effective.

Personnel must be safely evacuated from the danger area.

The fire should be confined to its ignition compartment and prevented from

These criteria are supported and regulated by the requirements of SOLAS Chapter II-2
and the rules of the Classification Societies.
The results of the Helsinki University study identified, not unexpectedly, that high risk
situations frequently occur in engine rooms and the risks are highest when maintenance
is taking place.
In their brochure on engine room fires, DNV state that while removing all potential oil
leaks is difficult, it is relatively easy to identify and remove hot surfaces. Most fuel,
hydraulic or lubrication oils have an auto-ignition point above 250C and if a liquid hits
a surface that is hotter than its auto-ignition point it may ignite spontaneously.
Therefore, the latest class and SOLAS regulations require that all surfaces above 220C
should be shielded or insulated. Particular note should be taken that this protection
often degrades in service or may not be replaced properly after maintenance, with the
result that regular checks should be made both visually and using temperature
measuring tools.
Statistics show that fuel oil leakage in engine rooms can occur as the result of any of a
number of causes from flexible hoses, couplings, clogged filters and fractured pipes.
Sharp bends should be avoided in flexible pipes.
Paragraphs 2.9 to 2.11 in SOLAS Chapter II-2, Regulation 15 apply to ships built after
1st July 1998, and also to all ships from the 1st July 2003. These specify the
requirement for jacketed (double) pipes for high pressure fuel oil lines, the insulation of
all surfaces with temperatures above 220C that are at risk of fuel impingement after a

Fire Resistant Engine Room - project report, Pentti Hakkinen et al., Helsinki University of Technology
Ship Laboratory, publication M-215 (in Finnish), Espoo 1996
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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Methods of Preventing Fires

failure, and the screening of oil fuel lines to prevent spraying of oil onto hot surfaces,
etc. An exemption is given for jacketed high pressure fuel pipes on engines of 375 kW
or less, where fuel injector pipes supply more than one injector, as long as a suitable
enclosure is provided.

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Methods of Detecting Fires


Regulation 7 in Chapter II-2 of SOLAS 74, which came into force in July 2002 states
that its purpose is to detect a fire in the space of origin and to provide for alarm for safe
escape and firefighting activity. It specifies that a fixed fire detection and fire alarm
system shall be installed in periodically unattended machinery spaces, as well as those
where main and auxiliary propulsion and electrical generators are provided with
automatic or remote control. The fire alarm should be heard and observed on the bridge
and by a responsible engineer officer.
The 1994 issue of this document drew attention to specific problems that might affect
DP vessels as:

The Unmanned Engine Room class notation (EO, UMS, etc) was not designed for
DP vessels, but for foreign going vessels that would spend many nights at sea on
passage. DP vessels are classed this way for two reasons firstly because they will
be on passage from time to time, and secondly the notation ensures extensive alarm
facilities are fitted to the ship.

Sometimes, watchkeepers are only aware of a fire due to activation of a "global"

fire alarm, and location of the activated alarm has to be relayed to the ECR by the
bridge officer. This can cause loss of vital seconds in clarifying if there is a fire or a
false alarm. On many DP vessels the DP bridge is not the navigation bridge and
there is some distance between them. In addition, when hot work is being carried
out, fire (smoke) alarms may be frequent and this can delay the response time.

Another area which causes concern is the location and number of detector heads.
It is essential that smoke detectors are placed where smoke will be detected. If they
are placed near ventilation inlets smoke will never be detected because as the fire
progress more clear air will be drawn into the space across the sensor.

If the watchkeeper has to leave the ECR to investigate an alarm this leads to delay
which could be life threatening. For example, the access door to the engine room
can be down a steep flight of stairs, heavy to open and without a window to see the
other side. In a fire situation, opening the door could be the worst possible action
for the watchkeeping engineer to take. In some vessels high risk areas are
monitored by CCTV, so that in the event of an alarm the offending space can be
viewed quickly and without danger to personnel.

With a single engine roomed DP vessel it is likely that there will be one man in or
near the engine room and he will be the best smoke detector and can quickly
confirm to the ECR if a fire alarm is true. With a multi engine roomed DP vessel
there will almost always be one engine room with nobody in it and the ECR can be
quite remote from one or more of the engine rooms. It is in these circumstances that
CCTV is most useful.


Fire Detection Systems

The latest technology used in the detection of fires is reviewed in a paper5 read
to the Institute of Marine Engineers (now the Institute of Marine Engineering
Science and Technology) in November 2000. As well as the traditional

Fire Detection Systems for the Millennium, Brian S. Rodricks of Thorn Security Ltd, paper read to the
IMarE, November 2000
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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Methods of Detecting Fires

detection methods of ionisation chamber and optical scatter smoke detectors,

these include the development of:

CO (carbon monoxide) detectors (which can give early warning of

smouldering fires),

high performance optical detectors (which include rate of temperature

rise to adjust the sensitivity of the optical head, and give a similar
performance to smoke detectors without the radiation hazard),

triple wavelength infra red flame detectors (less liable to false alarms and
obscuration than UV detectors), and

multi-sensor detectors (similar to the above high performance detectors,

but giving separate smoke and heat outputs to a trend analyser).

Problems in the past with high numbers of false alarms from optical detectors
have been largely solved by improved design of the heads, which reduces their
sensitivity to dust while permitting earlier detection of smoke from smouldering
fires and overheating cables than is the case with ionisation chamber detectors.
Guidance on the use of alternatives to conventional smoke detectors, including
using CO detectors, is covered by IMO MSC Circular 1035 issued in 20026.
The Helsinki University study into the fire resistance of machinery spaces
(referred to earlier) concluded that fire detection systems should include both
smoke and flame detectors and stated that mixing ionisation and optical
detectors should ensure early detection of fires. However, the continual
technology advances in this field of instrumentation mean that better solutions
are always being introduced.
A CCTV based smoke and flame detection system is now available, which
automatically analyses the video signals from a standard CCTV installation
every second and will generate an alarm in the event of a pre-set smoke
obscuration threshold. It can also potentially be used to alarm in the event of oil
mists, oil spray and steam leaks.
Advances in display systems and processing power means that the operator
interfaces fitted to fire detection systems are now more sophisticated, and can
give the operator more relevant and useful information from the latest detector
heads. They can also allow information on risk management to be programmed
into the system which can also reduce the number of false alarms generated.
Self checking functions can be included to reduce the labour intensive system
testing required by SOLAS, and warn when a detector head is contaminated or
needs cleaning. As with many modern electronic control systems, the
manufacturer can offer a remote diagnostic facility, allowing him to access the
control system via ship-shore communications.

Machinery Space Oil Mist Monitoring

A number of shipping companies have been installing oil mist monitoring and
detection systems in critical unmanned engine room areas and machinery spaces
for many years, and have found that they give excellent early warning of oil

MSC Circular 1035 Guidelines for the Use and Installation of Detectors Equivalent to Smoke
Detectors, 28 May 2002.
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leaks and fine aerosol sprays. Typically, they are installed in the vicinity of high
pressure fuel, lubricating and hydraulic oil pipes on engine cylinder heads,
boilers, incinerators and hydraulic power packs.
The original systems were derived from other land-based industry applications
and comprised a sampling system similar to that used for explosive gas
atmosphere monitoring. A network of plastic tubing fed a multiplexed bank of
solenoid valves, a suction fan and an analyser. Correct siting of the ends of the
tubes is important as they can otherwise draw in dust or similar contamination
which could give rise to false alarms. Nevertheless, the system was shown to be
remarkably effective at detecting the early signs of leakage, before ignition
The latest systems are based on solid state sensors distributed about the engine
room in the critical locations and monitored by an electronic control system,
resulting in a more reliable and less complex installation.

Crankcase Oil Mist Detection

Over the years there have been many serious cases of explosions in engine room
crankcases, which are well documented in other publications. Apart from the
hazard of the explosion, the consequences can often lead to a fire in the engine
room. In 1947 a bearing failure in one of the main engines on the passenger ship
Reina del Pacifico led to a crankcase explosion and subsequent engine room
conflagration which left 28 people dead.
Nowadays, most main propulsion engines are protected by oil mist detectors
(OMD) or bearing temperature sensors, through mandatory requirements, which
are very effective in warning of the event and shutting down the engine before
an explosion occurs or mechanical damage is done to the engine. The latest
OMD technology does not rely on the older crankcase atmosphere sampling
technique, but uses LED infra red light scatter detectors mounted in each
cylinder and electronic processing to monitor all spaces continuously and
display any alarm conditions automatically and remotely.

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These can be divided into fixed and portable systems. Fixed systems are required by
IMO regulations for all machinery spaces that contain oil burning equipment, internal
combustion machinery or steam machinery (the last if periodically unattended).
Regulations 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of SOLAS Chapter II-2 cover fire extinguishing
arrangements in machinery spaces, including engine rooms. The IMO issued MSC
Circular 847 in 19987 to assist in the interpretation of certain vague clauses and
definitions in the regulation. This should help to clarify where the extent and
installation of equipment does not always meet the intent of the regulations or their
application by surveyors.
Fixed fire extinguishing systems were traditionally met by fitting steam smothering or
carbon dioxide (CO2) systems. In the 1980s halon was introduced as a replacement for
CO2, and was rapidly adopted as the industry standard because it had the major
advantage of extinguishing fire in concentrations that would still support human life.
Although halon systems were more expensive to fit and replenish, CO2 systems for new
ships almost disappeared until the global warming debate resulted in banning all
fluorocarbons. Since then a number of alternatives have been developed, without
greenhouse gas characteristics, but CO2 systems have also made a major recovery. The
systems now being used on ships include:

Water spray systems

CO2 systems

High expansion foam systems

Water mist systems

Alternative gas systems

Inside air high expansion foam systems

The 1994 issue of this document drew attention to specific problems that might affect
DP vessels as:

With DP vessels, the problems of fire fighting and engine room shutdown
depend on the type of operation the vessel is employed on at the time of an
incident. Pipe laying, gangway connected accommodation support, diving and
heavy lifting operations all require different times to reach a safe situation.

For DP Class 3 vessels, where the complete shut down of one engine room
should always be possible without any loss of position, time should not be a
problem and the preset procedure should be put into action.

If the engine room is not sealed smoke will reach many other areas of the vessel
and there could be multiple fire alarms that will waste time and occupy various
personnel in checking them. It is also certain that all work will be terminated, as
if it was a red alert, even if only one engine room was on fire on a Class 3 vessel.

If there is only one engine room, but split support systems such as fuel oil and
cooling water, it may not be easy to determine which engines should be shut

MSC Circular 847 Interpretations of Vague Expressions and Other Vague Wording in SOLAS Chapter
II-2, 12 June 1998.
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down; indeed it could be better to leave all engines running and operate the quick
closing valves. In these circumstances the generators will continue to consume
the fuel in the lines, but, of course, they will also continue to add heat to the
engine room. Shutting down generators first will be a natural reaction for some
engine control room operators. This may not be the best action because it reduces
the power available for pulling away from the work location. It also does not stop
the motor driven pumps, which are pressurising the fuel oil lines on the low
pressure side of the system.

Fuel oil pumps that are motor driven are frequently duplicated with standby start
facilities between the two. The power for these pumps is usually from separate
switchboards and the complete shutdown of pumps takes a comprehensive
knowledge of the system. Pumps are numbered for each engine room, but it is
possible to trip the wrong pump motors and risk healthy engines or engine rooms;
particularly if they are powered from port and starboard 440V boards.

While the shutdown of engines and the fuel oil supplies is instinctive to all
engineers it was found that the shut down of lube oil and fuel oil purifiers and
transfer pumps is not always considered. Similarly, the shut down of compressors
is often forgotten and these can prevent fire containment. Compressed air leaks
can be significant when fire smothering is attempted.

A60 standard insulation is frequently used between engine rooms and the ECR
and switchboard rooms. It is essential for attention to be given to the top of
engine rooms and the materials stored above, as this area should be well defined,
kept clear of combustible materials and accessible for boundary cooling.
Boundary cooling can also be used on accessible engine rooms bulkheads,
although if they are also insulated the effect of cooling is limited.

Ventilation shutdown is well understood as being essential and there are usually
well marked switches to shut down engine room fans and fire dampers. However,
the majority of vessels also have vents on deck that need to be closed prior to
smothering the engine room with gas. It was found that:

Going round the vents can take 2 minutes or more;

The marking of vents is poor under fire conditions as they usually have small
labels and there could be a mistake in identification;

The handles for manual operation are located close to the vents, so the
operator may not be able to close them because of the smoke;

Some need to be approached from above which could be difficult;

Others operate from below but the cover has to be lifted and dogged at the

The speed of closing the vents can be improved with frequent drills, with
personnel assigned to operate and become familiarised with doing so;

If the easiest manual vents are closed first then the last vent will probably be
inaccessible without breathing apparatus, because the smoke will be so dense.
All the above do not make vent closing impossible but they make the time
interval between alarm and the release of smothering gas longer and risk
premature gas release.

If the engine room that is on fire is well sealed then smoke might be prevented
from entering other spaces. However the exhaust vents of one space can be

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positioned close to the intakes of other spaces which results in smoke in all
machinery spaces and perhaps the accommodation. While this smoke is less
dense than in the burning engine room most personnel will be are unable to make
this comparison, and general confusion is likely as to the extent of the fire.

CO2 Systems
As with any gas based system CO2 cannot be released until the engine room is
sealed to prevent air ingress and gas egress. If the gas is released too soon then
the correct concentration throughout the engine room volume, which is crucial to
the extinguishing process, will be diluted and may not be effective. This process
inevitably takes time. Furthermore, the concentration of CO2 needed to put out
any fire will also kill anybody left in the space, so more time is normally needed
to ensure all personnel have left before activating the gas release. This is the
main reason that halon was adopted so readily when it first became available.
Despite these inherent disadvantages, CO2 is a very effective fire extinguishing
medium which is readily available worldwide and it is still the first choice for
many ship owners and operators. Shipyards prefer it because it is simple and
cheap to install.


Situation regarding the use of Halon

In 1994 IMO prohibited the installation of new halon systems on ships. IMOs
Fire Protection (FP) sub-committee has issued FP Circular 25 in 20038 on the
availability of halon banking and reception facilities at various ports in the
world. However, the actual situation regarding the use or replacement of
existing halon fire fighting installations is confused and accurate guidance is
difficult to find. The rules and regulations will undoubtedly change as time
passes and will vary from country to country.
Under European Union (EU) regulations existing fixed halon systems were
allowed to be used and refilled until the end of 2002 or 2003, depending on
whom you read, and some flag states have concluded that systems must be
decommissioned and the halon gas recovered in accordance with EC Regulation
No. 2037/2000. This latter regulation only applies to EU and European Free
Trade Association (EFTA) member flagged vessels, but DNV advises that halon
can no longer be used for fire fighting on ships with the St Vincent &
Grenadines flag (with South Africa said to follow). Also, portable halon
extinguishers should be decommissioned on EU and EFTA member flagged
vessels by the end of 2003.
DNVs advice on the state of regulations regarding halon for engine room fire
extinguishing systems is that the EU regulations are being revised to include a
new phase out programme, starting with older vessels from 2005 and all vessels
by the end of 2008. Members are advised to contact their Flag State directly to
clarify their own situation, and to discuss any issues related to disposing of
redundant halon gas. IMCA has issued guidance on the alternatives to halon in
publication S&L 006 Halon and the Alternative Fire Suppression Gases.

FP Circular 25 Halon Banking and Reception Facilities, 6 January 2003.`

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The results of the questionnaire circulated to IMCA contractor members during

the preparation of this document showed that six of the members who replied
have ships with halon fire extinguishing systems onboard. One member
volunteered that he had already replaced halon with halotron (a blend of gases as
described in section 5.3 of IMCA S&L 006). Two of the members with halon
systems indicated they did not intend to replace them at present, and two are
studying the best alternative system to use: of the other two members with halon
systems, one is planning to change to CO2 and one to FM200 (an alternative fire
suppression system using a colourless, odourless gas containing carbon,
hydrogen and fluorine).

Portable Fire Extinguishers

Portable fire extinguishers can be filled with water, foam, powder or CO2,
depending on the class of fire likely to be encountered. Most ships and
machinery spaces will have a mixture of different types and capacities, which
are shown on the Safety Plan. They should all be inspected and serviced as
necessary on an annual basis, and hydraulically pressure tested every ten years.
According to the latest advice portable halon extinguishers should be
decommissioned on EU and EFTA member flagged vessels by the end of 2003.


Fixed Water Based Fire Extinguishing Systems

On many types of ship with low ceiling engine rooms, such as offshore and
many DP vessels, a number of high and low pressure water spray and atomising
fire fighting systems were introduced during the 1990s as alternatives to CO2
and halon. To standardise the approval process and testing of these IMO issued
MSC Circular 914 in 19999. The guidance contained in this circular covers
manually activated systems and automatically activated systems of the wet pipe,
dry pipe, preaction or deluge types.
In the questionnaire sent to IMCA contractor members only one DP vessel
operator advised that he had water fog or mist systems on board, and these were
fitted to 5 ships.
The latest technology available from the manufacturers of water based systems
claims that water mist can be suitable for engine rooms of more than 3,000m2
and ceiling heights up to 11m. Of course, water based systems can usually be
deployed very rapidly, as soon as a fire is detected, as it is not hazardous to
human life: nor does the engine room have to be sealed before deployment.
They also have a rapid cooling effect on the atmosphere and the hot surfaces,
which itself reduces the spread of fire and the likelihood of re-ignition.

MSC Circular 914 Guidelines for the Approval of Alternative Fixed Water-Based Fire-Fighting
Systems for Special Category Spaces, 4 June 1999.

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Methods of Extinguishing Fires

Fixed Aerosol Fire Extinguishing Systems

The IMO issued MSC Circular 1007 in 200110 which addressed the introduction
of alternatives to halon in the form of a chemical agent that extinguishes a fire
by interrupting the process of the fire. These include both foam generating
systems and inert gases or halocarbon agents. Circular 1007 goes into
considerable detail as to the types of chemical agents that are permitted and how
they should be installed and tested. Although any effective and proven system
can be introduced as a fixed fire fighting method, it is notable that all such
systems must be non harmful to personnel and any gases must be in
concentrations that do not exceed the No Observed Adverse Effect Level
(NOAEL) limit. One advantage is that they do not necessarily need extensive
pipework installations.


Local Fire Fighting Systems

Local fire fighting systems are often installed in areas where a high risk of an oil
fire is present. New vessels built after July 2002 have to comply with SOLAS
requirements for local application fire fighting systems and protect the following

Tops of engines (only cylinder covers and fuel oil lines, unless a
combination of hot surfaces and oil lines occurs at a lower level)

Oil burners on boilers

Oil burners on incinerators

Gas turbines

These water based systems require power and pumps in most cases, although
some have stored pressure systems with limited output flow. In 1999 the IMO
Marine Safety Committee approved guidelines for approving water based fixed
systems and issued MSC Circular 91311 to set standards for manufacture and
testing of them.

Shore Based Fire Fighting Resources

On ships which are within reach of land it is the responsibility nowadays of
professional firefighters to respond to ship borne fires when alerted to them.
Regular training courses are held in a number of countries to prepare fire
brigades to deal with incidents in marine environments, but this is very much a
developing area of expertise and one which still has quite a long way to go.
More information can be obtained from the UKs Chief and Assistant Chief Fire
Officers Association website at www.fire-uk.org/offshore.htm (this is UK-based,
but with links to international sites).


MSC Circular 1007 Guidelines for the Approval of Fixed Aerosol Fire-Extinguishing Systems
Equivalent to Fixed Gas Fire-Extinguishing Systems, as Referred to in SOLAS 74, for Machinery
Spaces, 26 June 2001.
MSC Circular 913 Guidelines for the Approval of Fixed Water-Based Local Application Fire-Fighting
Systems for Use in Category A Machinery Spaces, 4 June 1999.
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Personnel Experience and Training


Only a few engineers will experience an engine room fire, but engineers who
have served on vessels for a few years recognise the circumstances where a
serious fire could start. There is a difference between vessel crews that have
experienced a fire and those that have not. On those that have, the risk is seen as
being much more likely. This is a natural response. The objective must be to
pass on some of this first hand experience to other engineers and vessels, so that
the general level of awareness increases and the frequency of engine room fires
decreases. One of the purposes of the original report was to assist with this
awareness. The matters raised will probably be familiar to engineers who have
experienced an engine room fire. They should add their own comments and
promote the report to others because it is possible to learn from the mistakes of

The classic operator errors that can easily be made even by the most
competent and experienced engineers are as follows:

Paying little immediate attention to a fire alarm because there have

been a number of recent false alarms;

Leaving oil leaks until a later time because of other matters to see to;

Leaving, temporarily, materials in the engine room that should not be

left there;

Not knowing exactly which breakers are for which pumps (perhaps
considering this to be an electricians job);

Shutting down the wrong generator, pumps or vent fan;

Confusion and hesitation with quick closing valves because wording

and labels are not clear enough to allow for the urgency of a real fire;

Forgetting exactly which vents are for which space;

Releasing the extinguishing gas before definite confirmation has been

received that the engine room is empty;

Delay because of uncertainty about the priority of the action required;

Leaving engine room fire doors open or only partly closed;

Leaving the ECR unattended.

The other source of experience must come from fire fighting courses and drills
on board the vessel. The offshore survival fire training course is useful, but
more than this is required if a vessel is to have a fire fighting team capable
of entering an engine room and performing a rescue. There are courses
available, which include the use of breathing apparatus and, particularly,
working with it under various fire and smoke situations, but this is not the
focus of this report. The experience that is vital is the performance of the
recognised sequence of actions that would need to be instigated if a fire is
detected in the engine room.

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Personnel Experience and Training

On-board fire drills are a statutory requirement and these drills are carried out
regularly. However they involve the whole vessel, cause a certain amount of
disruption and can mean that the same individuals perform the same functions
each time, even when the fire location is changed. They do not always simulate
a realistic situation.
There is actually no need for a full scale drill for a training session to take place.
The chief engineer can arrange to test a watchkeeping engineer at any
convenient time. Such exercises have been carried out on board DP vessels to
establish the time to shut down an engine room, the routes that are likely to be
used and the communication problems that might be experienced. However, it
should be realised that these drills lack the element of a worsening situation, as
when a real fire develops.
Exercises can also be carried out under supervision using a blindfold, to see if
engineers know the difference and location of shutdown valves, even if there is
dense smoke at that location, which will be the case on some vessels. Times to
perform certain sequences should be established (without crew hurrying
excessively), so that all the key personnel know how long various actions can
take in normal conditions and can thus understand how much longer they may
take in increasingly difficult conditions.

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Experience and Viewpoints of IMCA Members


As part of the preparation and background for this document, IMCA contractor
members were asked to report on any experiences they had had with major and minor
fires over the previous 5 years (1998 to 2002), and also on the types of machinery space
fire fighting systems they use on their ships. Nine members replied, operating a total of
54 offshore vessels, who reported only one major fire (which occurred in drydock) and
seven minor fires in that period. Ten of the ships are classified as DP Class 3, where
any fire should not affect the ability of the ship to remain on DP.
When comparing the frequency of fires on members ships with industry statistics given
earlier in this document, the absence of major fires during at-sea operations reflects well
on the operational standards and attention to engine room housekeeping by the
companies involved.
The members were also asked about fire fighting training courses for personnel, which
obviously includes fire fighting outside as well as inside the engine room. Roughly half
the respondents make use of additional training courses over and above those required
to meet STCW regulations (see the latest version of the STCW Convention, as
published by IMO). One of the major DP vessel operators offered the opinion that more
shore based training could be beneficial to improve the response to engine room fires,
i.e. practising fire fighting in simulated machinery space environments so as to be in a
position to take the correct actions.

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Lessons Learned


Most of the good housekeeping practices and precautions, that were included in the
original version of this document, are equally relevant today. We have therefore
included them in the following sections.

Fuel Oil Piping

As a result of the recent legislation in SOLAS 74 Chapter II-2 (Regulation 4,, most engines that do not have double high pressure fuel piping must be
converted, and there are companies that are specialised in this work.
The low pressure side of the fuel oil system has proved to be a hazard. Concern
has been expressed because, if there is a injector fault, it is sometimes possible
to get injection pressures partially transmitted back to the low pressure side.
Diesel engines are manufactured for many uses, including stand-alone use with
local starting and operation. For this duty the engine requires local gauges and
indicators for lube oil and fuel oil. These facilities are also important when the
engine is tested prior to leaving the manufacturers. It should be noted, however,
that each additional pipe, valve, union, flange and gauge provides another
potential source of leakage.
Other bad practices that have been noted include:

Storage tank overflows located so that an overflow from a refilling

error could cause oil to fall on or near hot engine surfaces.


The use of drip cans to catch oil from leaks that have not been fixed (an
overflowing drip can was given as one of the causes of a ferry fire)


No quick closing valve on large degassing columns.

The location of the remote operation for fuel quick closing valves is generally
well known by engineers on board, but shipyards still provide small neat labels
and on multi-engined vessels the order and logic of their relative positioning
does not help their identification when the engineer is under pressure. They
should be grouped per engine room and marked in large letters with the words
that are in common use on board (which can be different to that used by the
There must be no risk of the wrong engine room being shut down.

Checking the Fire Alarm

Fire alarm repeater displays should be installed in engine control rooms, so that
the watchkeeping engineer when on DP can know at the same time as the bridge
that a detector has been activated in a machinery space. Addressabledetector
systems mean that it is also possible to know exactly which sensor is activated,
and not just the zone.
To prevent the risk and time loss of physically checking the alarm, CCTVs have
been installed in engine rooms so that the watchkeeper does not have to go to the
engine room. While this is not particularly expensive, a cheaper solution has

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Lessons Learned

been implemented on several vessels. This is to install a window in the door

into the engine room so that the engineer does not have to open it to see if the
space is on fire and unsafe to enter. The glass has to be compatible with the
subdivision and strength requirements of the door.

Ventilation Shut Down

As with the fuel quick closing valves, better marking has been used on some
vessels, together with colours for the different engine rooms. The most
significant improvement however is to locate the lever well clear of the vent and
in such a position that access to it without breathing apparatus is possible.
On one vessel the vent that would probably be the last to be closed was a large
mushroom type that was difficult to reach and would need somebody to get right
next to in order to close it. Modifications resulted, but the vessel should not
have been built in this way. Perhaps the worst example is a vessel where the
funnel has to be partially climbed and an engine room vent accessed from above.


Cable Routes
If a vessel has been constructed without strict cable route design and supervision
it is almost impossible later to determine the route of every cable. The large
high voltage cables are generally easy to trace as are many of the 440V cables:
they are generally more robust and if they fail either the protection will operate
or they will provide an obvious open circuit. The cables that are the most
difficult to trace are the control cables on existing vessels. With hard wired
digital and analogue signals, a fire can cause a multitude of alarms and false
signals that can cause healthy thrusters and generators to trip because of logic
Examples of these consequences are the pitch not at zero signal, which
prevents re-start of a thruster, and inadvertent activation of the emergency stops,
that would also prevent a re-start. These emergency stop circuits could be
routed through exposed areas of the vessel. For example, cables have been
routed so that they are near to survival craft launch stations, to provide the
facility of an emergency stop close to those stations, such that unnecessary
thruster operation could be closed down from there if necessary. There are no
regulations regarding emergency stops being located near survival craft, and
such extended routing of cables exposes them to danger of localised damage and
possible shut down of thrusters. Also, any extra emergency stop is a hazard in
itself, regardless of what safeguards may be in place to prevent misuse.
Irrespective of whatever guidance that might be taken from classification
standards or regulations, it is clear that cable routing needs careful consideration
to avoid creation of serious hazards to safety.


Progress of the Fire

Once an engine room has been shut down and sealed and the relevant
fire-fighting gas has been released the vessel has little feedback on whether the
action has been successful. All involved, clients, local and national emergency

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Lessons Learned

services and perhaps most of all, where applicable, divers in saturation will be
wanting to know if the fire is out.
With boundary cooling in progress and important areas getting water damaged
or even flooded there will be an increasing need to stop the hoses. Sooner or
later this decision will be made and, if there is no information about the gas
flooded space, it is likely that it could be made prematurely. There is a remote
possibility that CCTV is still working. Information can be obtained with a
temperature probe. Some vessels have now installed these so that they can give
the temperature in one or more likely hot locations within the engine room. It is
essential that these are placed in the best position for their purpose to provide the
space temperature after the fire has been smothered by gas. If the sensor is at
the top of the engine room it must be placed so that it is not influenced by any
Given that the temperature sensor(s) might not withstand an engine room fire it
might be better to install a facility for lowering a sensor into the space from
above so that the cooling of the space can then be more accurately measured so
that re-entry is not premature. Naturally good advice is to never re-enter a space
until you are sure the fire is out. The problem is how to be sure and quell the
natural eagerness to feel safe.

Summary of recommendations
Causes of engine room fire alluded to in this report continue to occur (although
they are not reportedly frequent in DP engine rooms), despite most of those
causes being well known. Some might have been prevented if there had been
attention to the following:

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1


Lagging should be replaced after repairs and maintenance, or

after oil leaks onto lagging;

Proper maintenance of quick closing fuel valves;

Good housekeeping rags in bilges removed, etc.;

Proper maintenance of ventilation shut down systems, fire

dampers, lube oil and fuel oil purifiers, transfer pumps,
compressors and relevant associated control systems, etc.;

Clear labelling of control gear avoiding possibilities of ambiguity

or confusion;

Regular checks of fitting bolts on fuel injection pipes;

Regular inspection of fuel pipes and proper replacement where


Avoidance of sharp bends in flexible fuel piping;

Checks that fuel, hydraulic and lube oil lines are isolated from
heat sources, e.g. location of storage tank overflows;

Provision of spray shields/sleeves for emergency situations;

Minimal use of external gauges for fuel tanks;

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IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

Lessons Learned

Keeping at least one portable extinguisher close to the engine

room entrance;

Proper location of fire, smoke and oil mist detectors and

confirmation of correct operation;

Immediate activation of fire alarms on ignition of a fire;

Ease of access to ventilators and shutdown controls.


Crew familiarisation drills in closing ventilators;

Crew familiarisation drills in closing appropriate breakers;

Frequent exercises to deal with problems that could arise from

fire fighting, not necessarily only within formal drills;

Regular tests of fire fighting equipment and fire fighting


Risk Assessments/Other Preventive Measures

Regular review of risk assessments regarding hot surfaces and

screening of fuel fittings especially, for example, if compression
joints have been used in oil lines;

Application of special safety procedures when doing repairs or

maintenance affecting fire safety;

Reviews of all procedures initiated by a fire fighting situation;

Consideration of different types and amounts of detectors, e.g.

carbon monoxide, high performance optical detectors, infra red
and multi sensor detectors;

Review of how and where alarms are sounded and how the
location of a fire can be quickly identified;

Consideration of what automatic fire fighting action could be

initiated by the activation of the alarm;

Consideration as to provision and deployment of CCTV.

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Fires in Machinery Spaces on DP Vessels

Useful Sources of Information


The website of the Swedish Club (www.swedishclub.com/lossprevention/fires/) has a
knowledge quiz on the subject of fires on board ship, which can help the ships crew to
gain a realistic feel for the serious nature of engine room fires, and it is possible to
download an Engine Room Fire Prevention Checklist to assist in assessing both the state
of the engine room and the crews ability to fight a fire in it.
The classification society DNV has a comprehensive list of documents and information
circulars on the subject of engine room fires, which can be downloaded from their
website (www.dnv.com). These include technical papers on:

Hot Surfaces in Engine Rooms (Paper No. 2000-P025)

Phase Out of Halon 1301 Regulations and Alternative Fire Fighting Systems
(Paper No. 2001-P002)

Local Application Fire Fighting Systems DNV Interpretations and Advice for
Owners Specification (Paper No. 2001-P013)

IMCA has issued guidance on the alternatives to halon in publication IMCA S&L 006
Halon and the Alternative Fire Suppression Gases.
We suggest that you use the space below to make a note of any additional sources of
information and guidance documents on engine room fires.

IMCA M 119 Rev. 1

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