Work to improve ro-pax fire safety has become a major area of activity for Interferry following several high-profile incidents in recent years, and this was again underlined by our key interventions at the fifth annual session of the IMO’s Ship Systems and Equipment (SSE) Sub-Committee, which took place from March 12-16.

Among several fire-related issues, the European Commission (EC) presented proposals arising from its FIRE SAFE 1 studies, primarily on electrical connections and alternatively powered vehicles. We argued that, while technically robust, some proposals – such as fitting earth fault breakers – are practicable for newbuilds but not necessarily for existing ships, which the EC also plans to include. Any requirements on existing ships must be more generic in nature, allowing for adaptations to the ship’s current systems.

Our concern is that good ideas for new ships could be killed off by the EC also pushing for retrospective application, albeit with a fairly substantial time delay. For instance, positioning of vehicle deck sprinkler and nozzles could be optimised for new ships, but very cumbersome to address for existing ships. The EC stressed that its findings from FIRE SAFE 2 would be submitted to next year’s SSE6 session, a timeline that might also prompt them to ask for a one-year extension of the final amendments deadline currently scheduled for Maritime Safety Committee Session 101 in 2020.

Japan and China also submitted several potential risk-mitigation options, many of which were very reasonable proposals. However, we emphasized the need to avoid working with a general wish list. After the Costa Concordia accident, the IMO spent several years trying to remove items of a less defined nature, and we maintained that such generalities should be avoided regarding ro-pax fire protection.

The most concrete outcome of SSE5 was the development of a structure for interim guidelines, to be further developed in a Correspondence Group between now and SSE6.

We will keep you up to date on progress.