Fire. The only good thing about that word is that it forms the initials of the first names of my family, so when The Superyacht Group asked me to write an article about one of our new fire-prevention systems, my first reaction was to decline, preferring not to tempt fate. Accidents and insurance are the hottest and most taboo subjects in our industry at this time.
Health and safety has become an increasingly large part of our everyday focus. In MB92 La Ciotat we have increased our spending on both hard and soft HSE investments more than five times over the past three years; better equipment, training, processes and, most importantly, more and better people. Despite all this, like a large dark cloud, the threat seems strangely greater than ever.
As with many things in life, this increase in awareness is certainly partly due to much greater media scrutiny – where automatic search engines and social media mean that it is almost impossible to keep any major event quiet. Naturally, there is a very fine balance between protecting the reputation of your owner or shipyard, and the jobs they create, as a result of any incident, which is offset by the loudening murmurs for increased transparency to try to improve the lure of our industry as a whole.
Obviously, major incidents tend to be difficult to investigate as it often isn’t until many months, if not years, later that the exact cause is known. These reports are then normally closely guarded secrets by the parties involved and despite calls for CAAI-type investigation panels these are unlikely to gain traction as the vessels we are dealing with are much less numerous certainly in terms of passenger numbers.
The problem with this secrecy is that when incidents happen, third-party shipyards will probably not even know that anything occurred, let alone the reason the incident happened. This means that each yacht or shipyard must conduct its own safety reviews, learning and investigations as this is not an area where a trial and error approach is tolerable! Add to this an increased focus on the environment and we can start to understand how health and safety has increasingly become a pre-occupation for many shipyards. Preventing the impact of pollution from fire extinguishing systems or pollution incidents is now right up there with preventing the incident itself and a balance between prevention is better than cure and preparing for all scenarios is always necessary.
This kind of blanket approach in MB92 La Ciotat has led us to install the largest high expansion foam extinguishing system in France, in an area where our superyachts do not even go! With 3,280m2 of surface area to cover an automated system capable of extinguishing a fire in under five minutes without damaging the building, its contents or the surrounding environment has been installed. The result is a high expansion foam solution that fills the building up to eight metres high with de-oxygenated foam that suffocates all types of fire instantly. The volume of foam required to do this? 26,000m3, which in superyacht terms is the equivalent of completely filling up two of the largest superyachts in the world! Thankfully the foam dissipates after just a few hours and, after a quick rinse, life can resume as normal.
In parallel to these kind of hard investments, we are also pushing for the latest technological solutions with mobile early warning and co-ordination systems on the drawing board to decrease reactivity time and allow for clear and concise instruction on a geolocational basis, which is extremely important on a large site such as La Ciotat. Individual daily mobile HSE sign-offs are now required to track flammable products or other high-risk scenarios, which, hopefully, will act as timely reminders to each individual working on board as well as providing key information on works and products in case of an incident. Other developments include multi-language signs and alerts.
The insurance industry is becoming more diligent and talks are already in process between the ICOMIA superyacht refit group and leading insurance figures to better formalise the review process of shipyards on a more frequent basis as, the current JH143 forms applicable to single projects are quite onerous to both parties – especially with many shipyards completing 50+ projects per year. Detailed analysis of procedures, structure, training, drills and basics such as the positions of hydrants, fire stations and other vessels can vary place to place within a yard, which makes for a very complex analysis. MB92 as a group has subjected itself to external auditing from a major surveying company, but an industry-wide system is obviously preferable to the insurers, in order to provide like-for-like risk analysis – to remove or optimise a vessel’s shipyard insurance premium increase when entering a shipyard for major works.
It is a pre-occupation that is rippling across our industry, and will ultimately leave nobody untouched. But we all have a responsibility to join in with this drive for improvement, as waiting for an incident to happen before acting is the stuff of nightmares.
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