CENTRO INTERNAZIONALE STUDI CONTAINERS
ANNO XXXVIII - Numero OTTOBRE 2020
DANGEROUS CARGO PROBABLY CAUSED MAERSK HONAM FATAL BOXSHIP
FIRE, SAY INVESTIGATORS
A DANGEROUS cargo was probably the cause of a fatal fire on
board a Maersk containership, an investigation has con-cluded.
"Singapore investigative body calls for better efforts
to screen hazardous goods after tracing likely cause of 2018
disaster to a compound capable of self-igniting stored under
containership's deck ."
Five seafarers died following the incident on the 15,262 teu
Maersk Honam in March 2018.
The Singapore-flagged vessel was en route from Singapore to Suez
with 7,860 containers when the fire started.
A report following the inquiry by Singapore's Transport Safety
Investigation Bureau has been published this month.
It said that while the extent of the damage meant that the
fin-dings into the cause of the fire were inconclusive, it was
"possible" that the stowage of 54 containers containing a
chemi-cal used in bleaches and cleaning products was the ultimate
Decomposition of the dangerous cargo generated intense heat,
enabling the fire to develop rapidly out of control.
"It is possible that one or more containers in number three
cargo hold [containing sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate] were
compromised by self-decomposition of the SDID," the bu-reau's
final 98-page report found.
"The block stowage of the SDID further exacerbated the rate
of reaction and heat production, which resulted in an uncontrollable
spread of the fire."
The temperature at which exothermic decomposition was initia-ted
was much lower than the values typically declared by the shipper,
and the presence of free water and / or stowage of the SDID in large
packages or consignments leads to further sub-stantial depression of
the onset temperature, the report said.
"Given the susceptibility of SDID to exothermic
decomposition in the presence of free water or impurities, serious
consideration must be given to the prospect that the decomposition
could be initiated as a direct result of the inherent properties of
the cargo itself," it said.
AP Moller-Maersk chief technical officer Palle Laursen said the
fire was "one of the most serious incidents'' in the company's
"The magnitude and intensity of this fire made it
impossible for any crew to successfully contain, making it key that
we as an industry take steps to address the root cause to ensure
seafarers never find themselves in a similar situation," he
said following the report's publication.
The International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code allows for the
classification and carriage of sodium dichloroisocyanurate dihydrate
under Class 9, which does not recognise the potential thermal
instability of the material.
The report said the chemical compound was stowed under-deck,
where the main fixed firefighting means was CO2 "which is
ineffective to tackle fires associated with such materials."
It also found weaknesses in the initial emergency response to
"It was noted that the fire alarm was not raised at the
onset of the event, causing a delay in the closure of the magnetic
fire doors of the accommodation, and non-closure of exterior
Moreover, the muster list did not clearly identify the roles of
everyone on board, which resulted in some of the crew waiting to be
The investigation also found that the firefighting flow charts
under the ship emergency response plan did not ensure that all the
ventilator flaps and dampers on board were closed as one of the
primary firefighting actions, regardless of the location of fire.
When toxic gases entered the bridge, chaos started to develop,
causing the formation of different groups. Radio communication was
lost with the smaller groups.
"The master's action to abandon ship with group one, after
ma-king reasonable attempts to reach out to the other crew on
wal-kie-talkie was considered plausible," the report said.
The TSIB noted that industry-wide issues still exist in the
cargo booking process for dangerous goods.
"Although there was no evidence of a mis-declared cargo
that led to the fire in number three cargo hold, the investigation
team noted that the current cargo screening process in the industry
is not able to ensure declarations by shippers, which are based on
trust, match the description of the cargo in the container, as such
a process could be too onerous and labour-intensive if carried out
Maersk has now banned the stowage of IMDG containers
imme-diately forward and aft of the accommodation and engine casing
for twin-island ships, and has reviewed emergency response
"The main safety recommendations in the report have already
been implemented across the fleet over the past two years and we
will be studying the report further to understand how to best make
use of the recommendations," Aslak Ross, the company's head of
marine standards, said in a statement.
Mr Laursen said the company was "devastated that five
col-leagues lost their lives and that five families lost their loved
"We hope this investigation will initiate a more holistic,
indu-stry-wide approach where we address the concerns regarding
containerised dangerous goods across the entire supply chain -
starting at the manufacturing level and following through until the
box has been safely delivered at destination to the customer,"
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