March 1, 2024
Pictured: fire extinguishers. Supplied by the Fire Protection Industry (ODS & SGG) Board.

Ensuring safety and a healthy ozone: fire suppression and environmental responsibility within maritime and shipping industries

By Industry Contributor

By the Fire Protection Industry (ODS & SGG) Board

Safety is paramount in the Australian maritime sector, and one critical aspect is fire suppression safety. As many people within the Australian maritime sector know, the marine industry is exposed to various fire hazards, ranging from engine room mishaps, galley accidents and more. Vessels that can be affected by fire range from leisure craft through to fishing boats, work boats, tugs and tenders to ferries, roll on-roll off ships, offshore supply vessels, cruise ships, bulk carriers, tankers, LNG carriers, container ships and warships. Significantly, whether in domestic or international waters, all forms of vessels can be prone to fire danger so it’s important to take precautions and safety at sea seriously.

So, what is the best way to stay safe on the water and where you should you look to make sure you’re adhering to applicable fire safety laws and regulations? One such place for advice is the
Fire Protection Industry Board (FPIB). Acting on behalf of the Federal Government’s Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water (DCCEEW), the FPIB plays a pivotal role in setting guidelines and recommendations to ensure that the maritime industry adheres to the highest standards of fire safety. Additionally, in line with global environmental initiatives, the Board administers the fire protection division of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Regulations 1995 (the Regulations) on behalf of the Australian Government, managing the permit and licensing systems of individuals, workers and businesses who handle scheduled extinguishing agents for fire protection.

To mitigate the risks of fire on board vessels, the FPIB has developed comprehensive guidelines for fire suppression systems on ships, whilst working to ensure all fire suppression agents adhere to environmental regulations set by the Federal Government. Primarily the most commonly used scheduled extinguishing agents used within the maritime sector are: FM-200®, FE-227™ and NAF S-III because of their ability to act as leading alternatives to Halon. Notably, for maritime workers, working within domestic waters each of these agents must be obtained from companies who hold an EATA (Extinguishing Agent Trading Authorisation), a permit which is issued by the FPIB. FM-200® can protect from most of the hazards that halon does but is significantly less toxic. Halon was banned from being imported into Australia or used on commercial flagged vessels in 1993 as agents controlled under the Montreal Protocol. This is because the ozone depleting potential (ODP) and global warming potential (GWP) of halon is far higher than carbon dioxide (CO2). Notably, Halon also has an ODP of 10 (meaning that it is 10 times more potent in destroying the atmosphere) and a GWP of 6200 (meaning that it is 6200 times as potent as CO2 in warming the atmosphere).

For Australian workers or Australian owned companies working internationally within the fire safety space, it is worth noting that any fire systems you have in place on your ships must be in accordance with International Maritime Organisation (IMO) requirements. In international waters, halon systems are still permitted. For anyone working within this international context halon can be purchased from the National Halon Bank or companies which hold a Halon Special Permit (HSP) and an Extinguishing Agent Trading Authorisation (EATA). For international workers access to supplies of halon is limited and minimum quantities will only be provided for recharging gaseous fire suppression systems to ensure safe operation.

So what are the board’s suggestions for keeping you, your crew and your vessel safe and protected from fire? Firstly, the Board recommends that builders, operators, and owners of vessels with gaseous fire suppression systems containing scheduled extinguishing agents ensure that the installation and maintenance of these systems is done by licensed technicians. Regular maintenance and service of gaseous fire suppressions should be conducted frequently to ensure full functionality in the event of a fire and all technicians working with scheduled extinguishing agents must hold the appropriate licence, authorisation or permit. The value and effectiveness of marine gaseous fire suppression systems requires that they be properly designed, installed, commissioned, and maintained effectively. Put simply, if you don’t get these elements right your fire protection system is more likely to fail when you need it. Taking these steps will also help ensure your acting in compliance within relevant Government acts and legislations, and whilst there is no requirement to replace systems, owners should consider changing systems to environmentally friendly alternatives where possible. There are a number of extinguishing agents that are not regulated under the government. For example, owners may wish to consider systems which use Novec™ 1230, inert gas or condensed aerosols.

For both international and domestic shipping, not only is following the recommendations outlined by the Fire Protection Industry Board an important way of keeping yourself, your vessel, and crew members safe, but staying compliant with the relevant regulations is critical in helping international duties and obligations in reducing ODS’s and Synthetic SGG’s under the Montreal Protocol. The environment is protected by strictly controlling the discharge of scheduled extinguishing agents (other than for putting out fires) and regulations govern the acquisition, possession, handling, storage and disposal of scheduled extinguishing agents, particularly when used within Australian waters.

So what is the Montreal Protocol and what does it have to do with extinguishing agents? The Montreal Protocol is an international treaty adopted in 1987, which aims to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production and consumption of ODS’s. While the primary focus has been on substances like chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and halons, recent attention has also moved towards synthetic greenhouse gases (SGGs) due to their impact on climate change. Compounds within the scheduled gases used within many fire suppression systems and extinguishing agents, when exposed to intense UV light in the stratosphere, release chlorine and bromine. These atoms when in the stratosphere destroy ozone molecules, which contributes to creating larger holes in the stratosphere. Stopping the release of these gases from entering the atmosphere and creating damaging holes in the earth’s Ozone layer is crucial in helping avert environmental disaster. Essentially, A depleting ozone layer results in an increase of UV radiation passing through the stratosphere. Increased UV radiation leads to poor human health, especially increased skin cancer, and has potential dire consequences to the rest of the environment.

Ultimately, environmental responsibility and care using fire suppression systems and extinguishing agents in the maritime sector goes beyond regulatory compliance. It is a moral imperative and the shipping industry, and in particular cargo and freight, is a significant contributor to domestic and global trade, that must also bear the responsibility of minimising its environmental footprint. By adopting fire suppression systems where possible that don’t rely on ODS or SGGs, or preventing entirely the required use of an extinguishing agent, the industry can demonstrate a commitment to sustainable practices, safety and help meet the targets of the Montreal Protocol. It is crucial that all those working within shipping work collectively to meet this targets and lead by example for the global community. The maritime sector’s contribution to these efforts involves proper maintenance and disposal of existing systems containing ODS’s and SGG’s. By integrating both safety and sustainability measures, through the acquisition of the appropriate license, training and maintenance, the maritime sector can navigate the challenges ahead while leaving a positive impact on both industry and the environment.

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