Reverse order when it comes to fire safety?

The number of fires on board large ships has increased strongly in recent years, according to the annual AGCS Safety & Shipping Review by maritime insurer Allianz. Freight-related fires are on the rise; the average has been one fire in less than two weeks for years. The number of fires or explosions on all types of vessels that resulted in total losses rose to ten in 2020, the highest number in four years.


Improving (fire) safety on board has led to various innovations in recent years: from free fall rescue boats to automatic extinguishing systems. All these innovations are always based on the ‘worst case scenario’. How can you prevent a large fire from spreading (rapidly)? The initial focus in onboard fire safety is on getting crew and passengers to safety. But from there, you always take a step back. So after: ‘How can the fire be extinguished efficiently?’ comes the question: ‘How can a fire be detected quickly?’ It is logical, but isn’t it the reverse order? Shouldn’t we start with the cause and focus on how a fire can be detected quickly?

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Let’s take a suitable example. In addition to large container ships, RoRo ships also run a high risk of fire. After all, heat sources are always transported on the decks, such as certain cargo, cooling installations, and other vehicle engines. SOLAS requires a fixed fire detection and fire alarm system in all Ro-Ro areas. However, these are not mandatory on the so-called weather decks. In addition, the most common detection systems are based on smoke detectors. However, by the time smoke is detected on an outside deck, the fire is often already raging.

Disastrous fires on ships with RoRo spaces have demonstrated the need for more efficient heat detection in open spaces and on weather decks. Shipping company Stena Line has therefore started working with Alphatron Marine on a solution. In close collaboration with Hikvision, which supplied the cameras, and Lloyd’s classification society, the AlphaHeatDetectionSystem was developed after extensive testing. This innovation enables thermal network bullet cameras to detect dangerous situations at an early stage. Even before a heat source ignites. The system has been extensively tested in sailing situations. The effects of ventilation, heavy rain, limited visibility, and other relevant factors have been taken into account. Following positive testing, also attended by Class Society Bureau Veritas Marine and Offshore and RISE Fire Research AS, the AlphaHeatDetectionSystem was installed on the Stena Transporter and Stena Transit in 2019. Other shipping companies have also shown interest since then and the system has been implemented on other ships in the North Sea or is in the test phase. In the meantime, we are continuously looking at new options for the AlphaHeatDetectionSystem, such as dual cameras, which means that a regular image can be displayed in addition to heat.

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The development of this fire detection system has further improved fire safety on board, and thereby moving away from the ‘worst case scenario’. This form of fire prevention is an improvement for the entire industry worldwide and is ahead of legislation. It can actually be compared to the third brake light on cars. Everyone recognizes its necessity, but it is not yet a legal requirement. But why wait until it becomes a requirement, and not take the initiative yourself as a shipowner? Reverse the order when it comes to (fire) safety?


This article is shared by courtesy of Alphatron Marine – a renowned supplier of integrated bridge solutions, representative of the most important brands in the industry and producer of unique complementary products.

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