Explosions and Fires

One of the greatest dangers to maritime workers and others aboard ships is the risk of a fire or explosion. There are a number of onboard devices, equipment, and materials that can cause a fire or explosion. Examples include generators, boiler systems, and fuel tanks in the generator room, as well as cooking equipment in the galley. Sometimes even the cargo itself is flammable – such as oil tankers.

The greatest risk of a fire in the generator room occurs when a high-pressure fuel pipe leaks. Leaking pipes can happen from vibrations, clamps rubbing against pipes, aging (especially if concealed behind other equipment such as pressure gauges), and fitting connections to the boiler. If this fuel hits a high temperature exhaust manifold or other hot equipment it can easily catch fire.

An Ounce of Prevention

Loss of life, injuries, and extensive property and environmental damage have all happened from ship-board fires or explosions. A number of sensible precautions must be taken to avoid the chance of these potentially deadly accidents. Adequate insulation (lagging) on hot surfaces such as generators, engine exhaust uptakes, steam pipes, and oil conveying pipes should be installed, inspected, and replaced if removed for maintenance activities. Periodic inspection of the generator, relating plumbing and fitting connections should be done to detect and replace broken and eroded parts to avoid equipment failure.

The greatest risk of fire in the galley is that of an electrical fire if any of the equipment sparks or shorts out. Since the galley is often unmanned for long stretches of time, there is a risk that an unattended electrical fire could become a major problem.

General precautions to take are to schedule regular fire patron inspections to physically monitor conditions of areas susceptible to fire and status of detection and firefighting equipment. Additional precautions include general good housekeeping. For example, keeping oily rages in a waste bin with a cover prevents vapors that can ignite from escaping.

Early Detection

It is also important to provide adequate detection measures onboard to enable the crew to respond quickly and effectively if any fires break out. Installing flame, smoke, and heat detectors in appropriate locations throughout the vessel is an important step. Not all detectors are effective for all fires.

Smoke detectors can detect light obscuring effects from smoke. Heat detectors can detect a sudden and significant increase in temperature. Flame detectors recognize the flickering of a flame by the type of light it produces (detected at around 25 Hertz).

Installation of these devices needs to be strategic. Smoke detectors work well in living quarters and accommodation areas. A smoke detector will not do much good in the event of an oil fire (which does not emit much smoke). A flame detector equipped with an alarm near fuel handing equipment can provide effective and lifesaving early warning of a fire.

Employer Responsibilities

The combination of the large number of possible fire/explosion sources present, the limited amount of space available to maneuver and store accessible firefighting equipment, and the need to evacuate people to water safely means ship owners and operators need to take the necessary precautions to avoid problems with fires or explosions. Prevention of fires is the primary goal. In the event of a fire, having detection systems that allow for an early response will improve outcomes. Effective response to fires onboard relies on properly trained crew having ready access to appropriate firefighting equipment that is kept in good working order.

Negligence by Ship Owners and Operators

Although explosions or fires may happen, they are not normal. Failure to take adequate precautions to prevent these and other types of accidents is an act of negligence. Specific examples of negligence resulting in ship fires include:

  • Using equipment and machinery that is faulty or not properly maintained
  • Inadequate training of workers who handle flammable materials
  • Insufficient, improper or defective firefighting equipment
  • Poor design of oil wells and equipment
  • Improper storage of chemicals

Maritime employers are held to a standard of using reasonable precautions to prevent incidents involving fire or explosions from happening. If a marine employer fails to act reasonably in preventing fires/explosions and their workers are hurt or even killed, then those injured and survivors of those who have died may be entitled to compensation. Costs for medical care and rehabilitation, lost wages, future earnings from a disability, and sometimes pain and suffering are available when a marine employer’s negligence causes injury or death to workers.

Cape May Maritime Accident Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Represent Those Injured in Fires or Explosions at Sea

If you have been injured in a maritime accident, Freedman & Lorry, P.C. can help. Call 888-999-1962 or submit an online form to schedule a free consultation. Our experienced Cape May maritime accident lawyers have a track record of proving negligence and earning substantial awards for our clients. Our offices in Philadelphia and Cape May, New Jersey serve clients throughout South Jersey, including the areas of Gloucester, Cape May, and Wildwood.