Major Fire on Ultra-Large Containership Maersk Honam in Arabian Sea, Situation ‘Critical’

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Fire prevention in the dock after Maersk Honam inferno

08 Mar 2018


Written by
Janet Porter

by Janet Porter

Industry is urged to make a collective effort to consider what steps could and should be taken to ensure the new generation of containerships are properly protected from fires
Bridge and accommodation block towards the fore of a modern large boxship
The modern move to place the bridge and accommodation block towards the fore of large boxships might save Maersk Honam from becoming a constructive total loss.

MOVING the bridge and accommodation block towards the fore of large boxships was designed to provide better sight lines for the crew over huge stacks of containers.

But that might very well stop Maersk Honam from becoming a constructive total loss.

The fire which broke out in one of the holds on Tuesday, and which has already probably cost five lives, may be prevented from spreading because of the barrier of the accommodation block.

That may save both the ship, which cost $122m, and hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of cargo in the containers stowed inj the holds and on deck away from where the fire is now raging.

Hopes fade for missing crew on burning Maersk vessel

By Janet Porter

08 Mar 2018

Update: Company says one crew member has died, four others remain missing, and two more are in a serious condition following Tuesday’s blaze on the $122m ship that was deployed in its AE11 loop and entered for P&I cover with the Standard Club
Read the full article here ❯

Firefighters are on their way, but it is likely to be days if not weeks before the flames are dampened down and investigators are given a chance to find out what started the devastating blaze.

But industry experts are already speculating that misdeclared freight or wrongly packed dangerous cargo was to blame.

Fires as deadly as this one are few and far between.

The most recent was the MSC Flaminia, which was rocked by explosions that killed several crew members while crossing the Atlantic in 2012, with the ensuing fire burning for several weeks and ports across northern Europe refusing a place of refuge.

But behind the headline-grabbing disasters such as that, there are many more less severe incidents, with the TT Club’s risk management director Peregrine Storrs-Fox saying that on average, there is a containership fire every 60 days.

Most are safely extinguished and loss of life is thankfully rare, but the industry has been agonising for years about how to handle a casualty involving an ultra large containership.

On that score, the 340 m-long Maersk Honam is not in the big league. The newest generation of 20,000 teu-class ships are 400 m in length and can carry considerably more cargo.

Yet firefighting procedures have not advanced in parallel with ship capacities. So this may be the catastrophe that forces all stakeholders to take action.

Just as ocean carriers and shippers came together over misdeclared container weights, which eventually led to mandatory verified gross mass requirements, so this fire may at last drive home the need for some fresh thinking on shipboard fires, the causes, and how to tackle them.

What helped the introduction of mandatory container weight declarations was some clear data, starting with the evidence from the MSC Napoli casualty and other incidents around that time, which proved once and for all that customers were not always truthful about the weight of containers and cargo.

In the case of the Maersk Honam fire, any number of things could have caused the blaze, and such is the intensity of the inferno that the truth may never be known.

The ship had loaded cargo at several ports in Asia including Xiamen, Yangshan, Ningbo, Busan and Singapore, and would have been loaded with all the usual merchandise exported to Europe, possibly including fireworks and calcium hypochlorite, both of which have been responsible for fires in the past.

Packed correctly, declared as dangerous cargo, and stowed in the right place, these should not pose a risk.

The cargo on board Maersk Honam would have belonged to customers of Maersk, its alliance partner Mediterranean Shipping Co, or slot buyer Hyundai Merchant Marine, so tracking down the guilty party will not be easy.

But Mr Storrs-Fox is now calling for a collective industry effort, and including the International Maritime Organization and International Association of Classification Societies, to consider what steps could and should be taken to ensure this new generation of containerships are properly protected from fires, with both beneficial cargo owners and freight forwarders doing their bit to help stamp out rogue shippers who put lives at risk.

Others will almost certainly add their voices, and who better to lead the campaign for safer ships and better fire prevention systems than Maersk, the world’s largest containership operator, which now has a vested interest in finding out what went wrong and determining how best to prevent such deadly accidents in the future…


Not sure I understand this. On a big hold opening it’s a two-piece hatch cover?

Yes. In order to span the beam of the ship and be light enough for a gantry crane to remove there are typically three hatch covers on top of each cargo hold, sometimes more. Older designs incorporated a longitudinal frame on the top of the coaming where each of these hatches laid down, but that eats into cargo capacity so it was done away with. The result is that where these hatch covers butt up against each other there is a gap that you can see daylight through when you are inside the hold. Rain and salt flows into the hold almost unimpeded and you can do the math with how that effects the steel inside the hold as well as your ability to seal it in case of an emergency. Not every new ship is like this but it is a newer design that has gained favor and doesn’t make much sense.


According to The Times Of India:
Indian Coast Guard brings fire on board Maersk Honam under control
Mar 09, 2018, 20:32 IST
A fire on board Maersk Honam was successfully controlled by an Indian Coast Guard ship Shoor off the Lakshadweep coast, saving 23 lives and averting a massive marine pollution threat. The 330-metres-long merchant ship, located 390 nautical miles off Agatti islands, caught fire on March 6. Sustained firefighting stopped the fire from spreading to other parts of the ship. Even as thick plumes of toxic fumes were seen when the fire began, signs of cooling down of metal fire were seen when white smoke billowed from the mega container ship. Search for four missing crew members of the ship is on, who are feared trapped inside the ship.

This seems to be the typical rsponse from within the industry when big incidents happens.

It was the same with the MOL comfort… move the media conversation away from the real problem (in the comfort’s case it was too little high quality steel) down the supply chain (in the comfort it was moved all the way down to the people who packed the containers).

Last time it was container weight markings, this tjme it is manifests. The question that’s never fully answered is why do they accept poorly documented cargo?

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The article you are quoting from is based on a statement by the Director of Loss Prevention in Standard P&I Club, not from a Shipping company. (Or me)

He is quoting from “an in-depth report on research into the growing threat of misdeclared and dangerous cargoes”.

I don’t think P&I Clubs are interested in covering up shortcomings by their members, or making excuses on their behalf.

Isn’t that what you are saying to:


How would you feel loosing MOL or Maersk as a client?


And how would these shipping companies feel about losing any amount of market share because they were ‘tough’ on shippers.

99.99% of the time I’m sure these shady shippers are getting away with it so why wouldn’t they continue to do so?

Shippers should get fined for every box they lose, say 1 million USD per TEU. If that doesn’t do it keep raising it till someone figures out how to lose less cargo.


Maybe we could start building our own crap again that will cut container traffic just wishful thinking I know.


P&I Clubs are non-profit organizations owned by the members to share the 3rd party risk:

BTW; Maersk is self-insured for H&M:

Exactly. Containers are lost in the pursuit of profits.

The cost savings of minimum lashing and ignoring weather to keep schedules leading to frequent loss of a few containers, is more profitable, than taking action to minimize container losses.

Container losses will be reduced by prudent measures, only when it becomes more profitable to do so.


I understand how p&i clubs work. I also understand that, like class, they are non-profit.

But would either exist if someone wasn’t making a profit from their services?

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They are not clients but members. The clubs are there to cover the uninsurable risks, .pollution, piracy, collision. Also with much of H & M cover it only extends to 3/4 of hull cover for collision, the rest is covered by P & I. As the first principle of insurance is that the misfortunes of the few are borne by the many, then, as OMBugge points out, Maersk has become the many and thus bear their own H & M.

BTW Maersk are split over Britannia, Gard, and Skuld, maybe even farther. Eggs and Baskets.

Meanwhile debate rages on…


That linked article, Fire down below was good, Michael Grey usually is.

However I don’t fully agree with this.

This is the age of blame, when errors are unacceptable, procedures are designed on the precautionary principle and accidents don’t happen. Except it doesn’t work out like that. Almost certainly, someone was to blame for the fire which broke out in the hold of the Maersk Honan the other day, but the chances are they won’t be brought to book any more than all those guilty people responsible for most of the other fires which wrecked container ships over the years have been identified and prosecuted.

Maybe back in the day when incidents were blamed on an “act of God” there was less blame but more recently it’s been easy to point the finger at the crew. The good thing about incidents on these mega-ships it’s more obvious the errors are not crew errors.

Other sectors where the crew can plausibly be blamed, big bulkers for example, it continues to happen.

You obviously don’t understand P&I.


It took the uscg 10 years and weeks worth of testing to asertain my competancy to master a ship… I’m happy you can asertain my competancy on marine finance in a matter of hours. Maybe you should sell your system to the uscg… they are always looking for ways to reduce cost.

Ok, then who was the p&i club for the el faro? When did they testify at the hearings? Should they have testified at the el faro hearings? What was their media response in the wake of the el faro?

I’m also a Master Mariner, although no longer active.

No, I can not assess your competence on marine finance, nor do I pretend to.
But what has P&I got to do with finance??

The El Faro was registered in Steamship Mutual P&I Club. They took a big hit from that incident, but I don’t think they were called to testified at any of the enquiries, nor are there any reason they should.

More surprising is that they kept the rates for their members flat, even with that big payout.

From today’s Fairplay: