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Learning from tragedy - Life-saving and fire protection

by Giovanni Delise & Alessandro Maccari on
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The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was such a monumental tragedy that it led the whole maritime community into new ways of thinking : prescriptive, deterministic, reactive regulations were created to fill the gaps which had only become obvious in the wake of accidents.
Immediately after the tragedy, an international conference was held in London, England in 1914, but it was only attended by France, Great Britain and the USA. Discussions addressed regulations for ship construction which had proved so inadequate in the recent past. It was only in 1929 that a similar meeting (this time attended by 19 countries) succeeded, witnessing the birth of the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) convention.

SOLAS proved to be a cornerstone of safety in the world of shipping. With this document, the number and dimensions of watertight divisions and compartments were established. For the first time, lifeboats had to be provided in sufficient number and size to transport all persons on board, capable of being lowered even with a 15° degree list. The verification of a ship’s compliance with the new regulations was left to national flag administrations and to classification societies.

Constantly updated

SOLAS continued to evolve with time, although sadly, many of the improvements were once again driven by disasters. For example, in 1948, following the tragic 1934 fire on board luxury cruise ship SS Morro Castle which killed over 130 people, SOLAS adopted a number of very stringent regulations on fire protection such as the subdivision of the ship into main vertical zones (MVZ) separated by fire-resistant divisions ; the provision on an automatic fire suppression system (sprinklers), and the calculation of the maximum allowable fire load within accommodation and service spaces.

Today, SOLAS is still a living document, continuously revised by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its member states. It is updated as technology progresses to meet emerging challenges, and to reflect lessons learned from the analysis of other maritime accidents.

Although SOLAS, as well as other IMO codes and conventions, provide general recommendations on ship design, arrangement and equipment, these conventions rarely define in detail standards for design, construction and testing. Here is where ISO standards help.

Working to save lives

Sometimes, mandatory regulations sparked by a tragedy require urgent implementation to prevent further disasters. Standards must be able to follow suit, in order to promote global implementation. A typical example is that of the Low Location Lighting system (LLL) – the luminous escape route identification marking, which became mandatory onboard passenger ships following the tragedy of the Scandinavian Star (1990).

The fire on this passenger ferry resulted in the death of 158 people, most of whom were killed by toxic smoke in corridors, unable to find an escape route. In 1992, the IMO adopted a resolution stating that all passenger ships had to have clearly signposted all means of exit, including stairways and corridors, and be marked by lighting or photo-luminescent strip indicators – the LLL – placed not more than 0.3 metres above the deck, allowing easy identification of escape routes even in the presence of heavy smoke.

At that time, such an International Standard was not available to facilitate implementation, so national standards had to be applied. Soon after, ISO was asked to work on the development of an International Standard consistent with all relevant and applicable regulations. The result was ISO 15370, Ships and marine technology – Low-location lighting on passenger ships – Arrangement. The last edition published in 2010, takes account of experience and lessons learned following 10 years of successful application onboard thousands of ships.

This is, of course, just one example among many of ISO standards routinely applied by the shipbuilding industry. While some target the design and construction of equipment, e.g. ISO 15371 on fire-extinguishing systems for protection of galley cooking equipment or ISO 15540 on fire resistance of hose assemblies, others look at the human factor.

The human factor

Standards which deal with the human element look at, for example, tools to help the crew, operators, surveyors or inspectors. Their main purpose is to improve human comprehension of ship design, equipment and arrangements, eliminating or at least lowering linguistic and cultural barriers. Examples include ISO 17631:2002, Ships and marine technology – Shipboard plans for fire protection, life-saving appliances and means of escape, and ISO 17338:2009, Ships and marine technology – Drawings for fire protection – Indications of fire rating by divisions for ships and high-speed craft.

These International Standards ensure that safety plans can be generally understood despite differences in countries of origin, national laws, crew languages, by shore-based fire-fighters or inspectors.

Another important standard is ISO 24409-1:2010, Ships and marine technology – Design, location and use of shipboard safety signs, safety-related signs, safety notices and safety markings – Part 1: Design principles. More parts are being developed to allow the general public to gain a better understanding of ship safety and operational procedures, independently of language.

In an era of globalization, when crew and passengers may come from every corner of the world, the translation into intuitive signs and symbols of most safety instructions is a real challenge. Some recent and shocking examples of problems with ship evacuation and abandonment procedures clearly emphasized the extent of this problem. However, it is a challenge that must be undertaken and a challenge that ISO is confident – once again – of winning.

Giovanni Delise
Giovanni Delise
Giovanni Delise
Head, Ship Safety Department
Fincantieri Shipyard

Giovanni Delise deals with different technical areas of ship design and construction including interior outfitting and safety issues such as lifesaving appliances, escape and evacuation, active and passive fire protection. He attends IMO fire protection subcommittee meetings, acting as technical advisor to the Italian Administration. He is a technical member of ISO/TC 8, Ships and marine technology, SC 1, Lifesaving and fire protection, and Chair of the subcommittee on life-saving and fire protection at UNI (U8101).

Alessandro Maccari.
Alessandro Maccari.
Alessandro Maccari.
Manager of Research, Innovation & Development department
Fincantieri Shipyard

Alessandro Maccari experience includes structural design, project co-ordination of several large passenger ships, design of accommodation areas, management of all safety aspects in ship design and production. He is adviser to the Italian Administration at the IMO on specific technical subjects pertinent to passenger ship safety, design and equipment, fire protection, stability, marine environment protection. He also cooperates, on several research and safety-related activities, with organizations such as CESA, Euroyards, US Coast Guard, CLIA.