SOLAS Regulations in Marine Fire Investigations

Mike Wisekal

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3 Jun 2024

Fire investigation is not solely about origin and cause. Wider factors such as ineffective emergency response delivery and inadequate fire equipment maintenance should also be investigated, as this can contribute to the spread and development of fire. Skilled marine fire investigators are frequently called upon to provide insights into these aspects of fire incidents, using relevant SOLAS regulations to support their findings.

International Regulations for Ship Safety

Three components are essential for ensuring the safety and security of maritime operations: the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), the International Safety Management (ISM) code and the ship safety management system (SMS).

Emergency response arrangements used to manage a shipboard fire are governed by SOLAS, which specifies a range of fire safety principles in the form of regulations. While flag states are responsible for ensuring that ships under their flag comply with these regulations, the responsibility for implementing these requirements rests with the vessel owners through their company policies and procedures in the form of the ship’s SMS.

The ISM code requires ship owners and operators to implement an SMS, as it addresses all the important policies, practices, procedures, and risk management issues onboard a vessel, including fire safety. The ISM code is an international maritime standard for the safe management and operation of ships at sea developed around three basic principles – the safety of people, the vessel and cargo, and the environment. Compliance with the ISM code is mandatory per SOLAS Chapter IX, Regulation 3.

SOLAS and Marine Fire Investigations

Since each regulation under SOLAS has its own purpose, the marine investigator should consider the implementation of the vessel's SMS during the course of their inquiry. For example, Chapter II-2, Regulation 10 – Firefighting, provides specifications for the suppression and extinguishing of a fire. The functional requirements of this regulation relate to the vessel's suppression and fixed fire-extinguishing system installations and the criteria for those systems being readily available in an emergency.

In this instance, the investigator will want to survey the onboard fire suppression and extinguishing equipment to confirm compliance with SOLAS regulations. This survey may include equipment like water supply systems, isolation valves, number and position of hydrants, fire pumps, fire hoses, fixed fire-extinguishing systems, firefighter outfits, and compressed air breathing apparatuses. If the investigator identifies an issue of concern, they may request further information, such as maintenance and training records, emergency response plans and checklists, and fire extinguishing equipment instruction manuals.

The above thread of inquiry may lead to further regulation considerations, like SOLAS, Chapter II-2, Regulation 14 – Operational Readiness and Maintenance. It may be that the condition of the equipment surveyed does not support the ship's onboard firefighting systems as maintained in a state of readiness. Specifically, the investigator might discover a defective fire pump or poorly maintained compressed air breathing apparatus.

SOLAS holds vessel owners accountable for maintaining international standards. If found noncompliant with SOLAS, the vessel could be deemed unseaworthy, meaning that the vessel, crew, or equipment is not reasonably fit for purpose.

Skilled Marine Investigators Make a Difference

Familiarity with SOLAS is paramount for marine fire investigations. Jensen Hughes is well-resourced, with skilled investigators who recognise the significance of SOLAS regulations in a marine fire investigation. Learn more about Jensen Hughes marine fire investigation capabilities, or contact us at +44 (0)141 639 6611.

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About the author

Mike Wisekal
Mike has been in fire industry since 1997, serving nearly 18 years in the Fire Service.