What caused the cargo ship fire? A cargo ship named “Felicity Ace” in the Atlantic Ocean sits ablaze in fire.
Imagine you are a thousand miles from land, on a large ship carry a lot of different types of goods, some mundane others highly toxic, now imagine knowing that your so far out to sea no land-based rescue helicopter can reach you if anything goes wrong.
This is why one of the most feared events to take place while at sea for any mariner regardless of rank or station is fire.
Fire has the ability to cripple a ship within minuets and depending on the cargo your carrying it can become an overwhelming and catastrophic event rather quickly.
Many fires have taken place over the years and have had cataclysmic consequences for example; the fire on board the Scandinavian Star a passenger ferry operating between Oslo and Copenhagen in 1990 claimed the lives of 159 people and yet the ferry remained in sight of land.
**The Current Situation**
The most recent fire is currently taking place in the Atlantic Ocean with what the industry calls a PTCC (Pure Truck and Car Carrier) type RoRo (Roll on Roll Off) vessel.
Her name is Felicity Ace, she is currently laden with high value vehicles and no doubt other cargos such as trucks and machinery spread across her decks.
These types of vessel are built to maximize loading and unloading efficiency therefore, they do have wide open decks which is not good if your dealing with flooding or fire as we found out in 1987 with the Herald Of Free Enterprise.
While at sea there will be dividers on the decks allowing the open car decks to be sectioned off, this is a post 1987 development which was put in place to avoid another capsize incident.
These dividers will also make fire fighting slightly harder to undertake, but critically can also help in preventing the spread of fire so it is really a mixed blessing.
Felicity Ace is not a large ship at 200 meters long and 32 meters wide with a dead weight of 60,000tons loaded but, she is large enough to cause big problems.
Many people look at huge ships and think there must be a huge crew onboard, in fact its quite the reverse, ships like Felicity Ace will have only around 23 to 25 crew onboard.
With so little crew you can understand why fires can get out of hand, it is true mariners are not fire fighters but they do train to fight fires, and it is also a mandatory training phase for all mariners under STCW2010 (Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping).
Mariners will train regularly to fight fires usually weekly this ensures they keep skills and equipment tested and up to scratch as required by SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea).
Fighting fires at sea is not like fighting fires on land, you have to consider the implications of bringing onboard possibly thousands of tons of water in a position that maybe high up in the ship.
This ultimately can destabilase the ship and in trying to save the vessel you could in the process actually be causing an even worse situation.
This is why in some cases fires can become unmanageable, and it is at that point in order to save the crews lives the order to abandon ship will likely be given.
**The next phase Salvage**
With the ship abandoned a situation arises in maritime law that is unique, this is called salvage.
In principle international law states that “any person who helps recover another person’s ship or cargo in peril at sea is entitled to a reward commensurate with the value of the property salved.”
This has subsequently raised an entire industry, salvage companies like Titan Marine, and Smitt Salvage are two of the most notable companies that undertake this work.
Their job is to save what they can of the vessel and its cargo while also protecting the environment, they are paid on completion, with additional monies being paid for protecting the environment.
But first the salvagers will need to put out the fire, this can be the tricky bit, unlike a container ship where there is a large area of deck cargo the Felicity Ace is totally enclosed meaning salvagers have to board the vessel.
Compounding this problem is likely to be that the main engine is not operational, this is vital, without the main engine or generators the ship is powerless which means no pressure for the water mains.
If this is the case the only other option for the salvers is to let the fire burn itself out and this could take months, as we saw with the 2012 incident with MSC Flaminia.
If the ship is still afloat after the fire has burnt out or is at such a level towing can begin, then the next objective will be to tow the vessel to a port that will accept the ship.
This may not be the nearest port, in some cases ports will refuse to take damaged ships due to fears of pollution or sinking so it could be a long journey.
Once in port the removable of goods will take place, the insurance company will come onboard as will a marine surveyor and assess the vessel structurally as well as assess the damage.
There are many different insurances in the maritime world and yes it can be a legal minefield, the ship will be insured this will be hull insurance or more commonly known as P&I cover (Protection and Indemnity) which insures the ship and machinery only.
P&I cover can be raised per voyage or per annum and is a pool of funds from call (buy) options made by club members, owners, freight forwarders etc.
The cargo on the other hand is a different matter, there are various types of insurance to insure the cargo, there can also be multiple policies to insure cargos and any interested party can insure a cargo.
The most common claim is General Average and in order for the General average claim to be properly declared there must be an event which is beyond the shipowner’s control, there must be a voluntary sacrifice this could mean the use of tugs or jettisoning cargo overboard and even grounding the ship.
There must also be something saved from the cargo.
I believe that should the Felicity Ace be saved and have some cargo intact this is going to be the most likely claim.
Once everything has been settled and the marine surveyor has completed the survey of the ship they will then issue the findings report.
Felicity Ace was built in Japan in 2005 she is currently 17 years old, in the world of ships she is just over half way through her life span therefore it may not be economical to repair her but instead write her off and scrap her.
There are two forms of write off, Actual Total Loss (ATL) most commonly when the ship has sunk or been destroyed to the point there is nothing left to salvage.
The Constructive Total Loss (CTL) this is where the cost of repair and salvage equal or exceed the cost of repair, if Felicity Ace makes it to port this is the likely course that will be taken, factoring in Salvage costs and the ships age.
**The final part**
While the Felicity Ace is owned by the Japanese Mitsui O S K line, she is not flagged in Japan she is in fact flagged in Panama and thus Panama has jurisdiction over the ship.
The reason behind this is simple, the Panama registry is open and does not have such stringent requirements in law as other countries like the UK, USA or EU does, it also does not have the minimum wage requirements, working conditions and other employment benefits developed nations enjoy.
Many companies register their ships with Panama do so to avoid a lot of regulations imposed on them by other flags or states, they also enjoy lower registry fees and taxes, this is what is known as a flag of convenience.
Certain flag states do not require investigations into how or why an accident or incident occurred, this has opened up a can of worms in the industry as unscrupulous owners have in the past bought vessels that are not seaworthy and deliberately sunk them in insurance fraud.
With some flag states not requiring investigations it is all to easy to defraud the major insurers.
However in this incident I highly doubt this is the case as the shipping line makes more revenue with the ship afloat than sunk.
Lastly I do believe Felicity Ace will ultimately be towed to port her cargo discharged then sent to the scrap yard as it will become too expensive to rebuild her.
What caused the cargo ship fire?
What caused the cargo ship fire?