Marine Fire Suppression and Extinguishment

July 17th, 2015

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On January 10th, 2015, the crew of the MV Maersk Iowa used

a clean agent extinguishing system to stop an electrical fire in the engine room. The blaze took less than an hour to stop.

The seas, filled with water, essential and basic to firefighting on land, are

of great danger to anyone who experiences a fire while on it. Scarcity and remoteness make the challenges of fire suppression and fighting all

the greater with far less room for error. In short, the practice and study of marine firefighting exists in a very necessary subfield where a small

addition of water or a slight subtraction of oxygen may mean the safety of a ship or the death of its crew. Judiciousness and economy, key in fire

safety systems, are greatest exemplified in the rigor taken to protect ship, crew, and cargo from the threat of fire.


The threat is enough to belay or postpone routes or trips, but in case of

fire, how is the threat addressed? As Halon-based systems continue to

be phased out, for the better of the environment and people, new and

novel systems continue to appear to replace it. Due to the utmost care

taken to prevent disaster across the world, the processes needed to test, improve, and implement fire extinguishment systems are of the highest standards that exist within testing laboratories and regulatory groups. 


As it stands within the United States, a fire safety system aboard a ship,

seafaring or not, requires the following as according to the United States Coast Guard:



    ABS Rules Table 4/11.1 (1996 version) OR

    • Category ENV3 tests of Lloyd’s Register Type Approval System,

    • Test Specification Number 1 (1990 version).

  • Documentation required: Test report from an Independent Laboratory acceptable by the U.S. Coast Guard for testing under 46 CFR 161.002. 

  • All components that are to be installed in locations requiring exceptional degrees of protection must also pass one of the following:

    • * the salt spray (mist) test in ABS Rules Table 4/11.1 (1996)

    • * the salt spray (mist) test in Lloyd’s Register Type Approval System, Test Specification No. 1 (1990)

    • * ASTM B 117-95 for 200 hours and does not show pitting, cracking, or other deterioration more    severe than that resulting from a similar test on passivated AISI Type 304 stainless steel.

  • Locations requiring an exceptional degree of protection means a location exposed to weather, seas, splashing, pressure-directed liquids, or similar moisture conditions.  These locations include:

    • (1) On deck;

      (2) A machinery space;

      (3) A cargo space;

      (4) A location within a galley or pantry area, laundry, or water closet which contains a shower or bath; and

      (5) Other spaces with similar environmental conditions.

  • In addition, all components of the fire safety system are to be tested to:


    • UL 864 or FMER 3820 and NFPA72


    • UL 521 or FMER 3210


    • UL 268 or FM 3230-3250


    • FM 3260


    • UL 38


    • FMER 3150 and NFPA 72;

    • UL 464 and UL 1580 can satisfy FMER 3150


    • NFPA 72 or

    • UL 1971



Engine control rooms, such as the Maersk Iowa's, must pass

rigorous testing of all of its fire detection, suppression, and extinguishment systems before it is approved for transport.

FM-200, one solution currently used on many ships, requires

specialized piping, electrical installations, and dispersal units to be installed and maintained over the lifetime of a vessel.