Interferry has long been heavily engaged in helping to develop new practices and regulations on ro-pax fire safety, working closely with regulatory body the IMO, the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA), national authorities, research specialists and industry partners ranging from operators to ship designers.
After several years of constructive deliberations, the June 2019 session of the IMO Maritime Safety Committee (MSC101) approved voluntary interim guidelines – treated as mandatory by many Member States – pending SOLAS amendments due in force from January 2024. The guidelines largely stemmed from studies commissioned by EMSA, with recommendations including no open ro-ro decks on newbuilds; fixed fire detection systems and water monitors for ro-ro weather decks; stricter ro-ro deck cabling and connections requirements; and CCTV covering all ro-ro spaces. Interferry supported almost all of this guidance, but argued for further discussion on some aspects to avoid unjustified construction requirements.
The forthcoming SOLAS amendments were subsequently drafted in March 2020 at the seventh annual session of the Ship Systems and Equipment sub-committee (SSE7), although two main issues were unresolved: the proposed prohibition of open roro spaces, and which requirements should apply to pre-2024 ships. A correspondence group (CG), with Interferry as an integral member, was established to discuss solutions for consideration at the SSE8 meeting scheduled for March 2021.
SSE8 had to be postponed due to the Covid pandemic and is now due to take place in March 2022. Having made great progress, the CG anticipates its proposals will be approved at the meeting and forwarded to the Maritime Safety Committee for final ratification.
MSC adoption would conclude the ro-pax fire safety agenda for the time being. However, it is likely that findings from ongoing R&D projects – notably LASH FIRE – will prompt the European Union (EU) to ask for the issue to be re-established as an agenda item, possibly around 2025.
The LASH FIRE project is a four-year EU initiative launched in 2019. As one of 27 research and industry partners, Interferry is coordinating input from the Maritime Operators Advisory Group (MOAG), comprised of nine operators, a shipyard, a training company and an equipment manufacturer. During 2021 research continued in areas including inherently safe design, effective manual operations and the specific fire hazards posed by electric- and gas-powered vehicles.
In December the project hosted a virtual conference featuring presentations and panel debate from operator, technical and insurance perspectives. Among a string of innovations under discussion, Interferry regulatory affairs director Johan Roos put the case for establishing non-mandatory IMO guidance on additional risk reduction methods, accompanied by a FireSafePlus class society notation entitling insurance premium discounts to operators who choose to comply.
The conference was followed by a workshop for LASH FIRE stakeholders MOAG and the Maritime Authorities Advisory Group (MAAG). This focused on key upcoming issues including efficient first response, safe electrical connections, weather deck fixed fire extinguishing systems and ro-ro space ventilation and smoke extraction.