May 26, 2006
IMO moves on balcony fires
IMO's Maritime Safety Committee has approved draft amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2 and the FSS Code to strengthen the fire protection arrangements in relation to cabin balconies on passenger vessels.
The move follows the fire aboard the cruise ship Star Princess and was among a number of important measures to move foward at MSC's meeting in London from May 10-19.
The cause of the Star Princess fire is currently being investigated by the U.K.'s Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) on behalf of the Bermuda Maritime Administration in cooperation with United States' authorities.
Although the investigation is not yet complete, the MAIB and the International Council of Cruise Lines (ICCL) issued a safety bulletin and a safety notice, respectively, which include urgent safety recommendations pertaining to the incident and a related paper was submitted to the MSC by the United Kingdom, which the MSC agreed to fast track.
The proposed draft amendments to SOLAS chapter II-2 are aimed at ensuring that existing regulations 4.4 (Primary deck coverings), 126.96.36.199 (Ceilings and linings), 5.3.2 (Use of combustible materials), 6 (Smoke generation potential and toxicity) are also applied to cabin balconies on new passenger ships.
For existing passenger ships, the MSC approved relevant provisions to require that furniture on cabin balconies be of restricted fire risk unless fixed water spraying systems, fixed fire detection and fire alarm systems are fitted and that partitions separating balconies be constructed of non combustible materials, similar to the provisions for new passenger ships.
The draft amendments will be circulated with a view to their adoption at MSC 82 in November-December this year.
It was agreed that the Sub-Committee on Fire Protection (FP) should review the fire safety of external areas on passenger ships and develop draft guidance for the approval of fixed water-spraying, fire detection and fire alarm systems for cabin balconies, taking into account that some existing passenger ships are already installing such systems in response to the Star Princess fire.
The MSC in the meantime agreed an MSC circular on Operational recommendations for passenger ships with cabin balconies. The circular recommends that the shipping industry implement a number of recommendations including increased vigilance such as the deployment of lookouts, fire patrols and television surveillance systems; passengers and crew should be advised not to leave towels and personal belongings on balconies; and passengers and crew should be reminded of the hazards associated with the use of unauthorized heating elements such as electrical heating coils used in cups or mugs and open flames such as candles.