Once again the mandatory fire fighting equipment regulations on board large container vessels will come under scrutiny.
The fire which broke out on 6 May 2014 in hold number 2 of the HANJIN ATHENS is one of a series of fires including but not limited to the recent one on the MSC FLAMINIA which belonged to the same German ship owner Niederelbe Schifffahrtsgesellschaft Buxtehude (NSB).
Is a fire pump capacity servicing only two 20 meter hoses with a water throwing distance of 20 meters as required by SOLAS really enough and state of the art of modern technology to combat fires on large container vessels? What about foam sprinklers in cargo holds, water curtains between the bays to prevent a spreading of the fire or remotely controlled heavy foam monitors with a throwing distance of 50 meters just to name a few options to improve fire safety on large container vessels?
The HANJIN ATHENS was en route from Pusan, Shanghai, Ningbo, Hong Kong, Yantian and Singapore bound for Port Said, Naples, Livorno and La Spezia with a capacity of some 5.600 TEU, hence it can be estimated that a total of some 2.800 TEU were on board with an estimated total cargo value of USD 150 to 200 million, hence the 34% GA security would amount to approx. USD 51 to 68 million. The Cyprus based General Average Adjusters are asking for a 34% General Average Security whilst exercising the ship owner’s right to lien the cargo. We (ZASS) have been asked by Cargo Underwriters from China and the Middle East to assist.
Whilst a fire does usually give a ship owner or a B/L carrier a valid defense to reject liability it has to be seen if there is some blame on the ship owner or if the container from which the fire originated can be identified to allocate it to a shipper that may be blamed. According to the latest IMO regulations the Maritime Accident Investigation Report has to be published latest within one year after the accident and submitted in English language to the IMO, unless there are good reasons to prolong this period of time for the sake of the investigation.
The vessel is reportedly P&I insured with GARD AS and it has to be seen if the ship owners initiate limitation proceedings to limit their liability to an amount of SDR 23.083.400 being equivalent to approx. USD 35.544.421 (which is about half of the requested GA security) in accordance with the 1996 amendments to the London Limitation Convention of 1976 for a ship size of 66,278 GT.
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