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Fires remain one of the global shipping industry's major challenges to not only the health and safety of employees working onboard container vessels but also to the security of its cargo. The industry is also facing a second ongoing challenge.
Recent figures have estimated that the industry accounts for roughly 3% of global emissions and 10% of transport emissions, representing around the same share as aviation. As the impact of climate change becomes increasingly apparent, pressures are growing for all global industries to take action and reduce their emissions, especially major contributors such as the shipping industry.
An innovation from Australia's national science agency, CSIRO, looks set to address both these problems with its fire-resistant ship cladding. As well as preventing fires on ships by withstanding temperatures of over 1000 °C, this new cladding will also decrease carbon emissions by reducing the ship's weight and its fuel usage.
Increased Fire Resistance in the Shipping Industry
The new technology was designed in Australia with the support of multiple Federal Government programs. As well as producing innovative ship cladding that will prevent fires and cut emissions, the project is creating jobs and drawing international trade to Hobart, the State of Tasmania's capital city.
The new fire-resistant cladding for ships was the result of a combined effort from CSIRO, Australia's national science research agency, and CBG Systems, a market leader in the supply and installation of fire and thermal insulation.
The new ship cladding has been installed on two new vessels. Its thermal coating has been proven to remain intact for more extended periods than conventional fire-resistant coatings. The cladding's designers also created reversible panels that are hydrophobic, preventing water damage to increase durability.
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Innovative Cladding Cuts Emissions
The team from CSIRO and CBG Systems created their initial design with high-speed aluminum vessels in mind. The new ship cladding was created to weigh significantly less than traditional metal, bringing down the total weight of the vessel, and, therefore, reducing its fuel consumption.
In theory, the material could be developed for use as alternative construction products. If the material were to be introduced to a significant portion of ships worldwide, then the reduction in fuel consumption would equate to a significant reduction of carbon emissions for the shipping industry. Across the globe, ships would operate more efficiently, helping the worldwide shipping industry to become greener.
The Development of Safer Ships
With its heightened temperature and fire resistance, the cladding also has the potential to revolutionize the safety of the industry for workers, as well as the safe passage of import and export goods.
In 2019, TT Club, an international transport and logistics insurer, estimated that there is a major containership fire incident at sea every 60 days.
The Wall Street Journal also recently reported that the shipping industry is suffering from a spell of fires onboard cargo ships. According to data analyzed by NCB, an American not-for-profit group that focuses on assisting the coastguard with oversights in maritime safety, revealed that 55% of shipping containers present a fire hazard. They also found that 69% of containers shipped into the US has issues such as failure to be adequately secured, missing warning signs, or incorrect labeling of goods. This oversight to properly check, secure, and label containers could potentially increase the fire hazard already presented to the shipping industry.
With fires presenting such a pressing challenge to the shipping industry, the widespread adoption of the new ship cladding could have a significant impact on reducing this danger. However, as recent data has revealed, it will be a piece of the puzzle in resolving the entire problem. Currently, the fire-resistant cladding represents a step in the right direction towards addressing fire safety.
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An Essential Step for Safety and Emissions
The innovative ship cladding will be important for the shipping industry, helping to improve safety and cut emissions. It will also be important for Australia as it is currently the world's second second-largest emitter per capita. In February, the country had only managed to reduce its emissions by 0.3% from January to September 2020. Following the recent devastating bushfires that not only ravaged the countryside and its wildlife but released tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, Australia has been put under further pressure to tackle its emissions. Actively working on projects that tackle emissions on the large-scale will benefit Australia, developing its knowledge and talent in addressing emissions into the future.
If adopted on a large-scale, CSIRO and CBG Systems’ cladding has the potential to reduce the prevalence of fires. However, it is not the only step required to tackle fire hazards in the shipping industry.
References and Further Reading
Morton, A. (2020) Australia's carbon emissions fall just 0.3% as industrial pollution surges. [Online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/feb/24/australia-carbon-emissions-fall-industrial-pollution-surges-electricity-agriculture-lng (Accessed on 21 July 2020).
Paul, S (2020) Australia's leaders unmoved on climate action after devastating bushfires. [Online] Reuters. Available at: (Accessed on 21 July 2020).https://www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-bushfires-climatechange/australias-leaders-unmoved-on-climate-action-after-devastating-bushfires-idUSKBN1Z60IB
Allianz. Industry's struggle with container ship fires continues. [Online] Available at: https://www.agcs.allianz.com/news-and-insights/expert-risk-articles/container-ship-fires.html (Accessed on 21 July 2020).
CSIRO. Innovative new ship cladding creates jobs and reduces emissions. [Online] Available at: https://www.csiro.au/en/News/News-releases/2020/Innovative-new-ship-cladding-creates-jobs-and-reduces-emissions (Accessed on 21 July 2020).
Scott, M. (2019) Shipping Sector Comes Under Increasing Pressure To Cut Its Carbon Footprint. [Online] Forbes. Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/mikescott/2019/06/28/shipping-sector-comes-under-increasing-pressure-to-cut-its-carbon-footprint/ (Accessed on 21 July 2020).
Paris, C. (2019) Spate of Fires Has Shipping Industry Looking at How Dangerous Goods Are Handled. [Online] The Wall Street Journal. Available at: https://www.wsj.com/articles/spate-of-fires-has-shipping-industry-looking-at-how-dangerous-goods-are-handled-11574600400 (Accessed on 21 July 2020).
World Maritime News. (2019) TT Club: Major Containership Fire Happens Every Two Months. [Online] Offshore Energy. Available at: https://www.offshore-energy.biz/tt-club-major-containership-fire-happens-every-two-months/ (Accessed on 21 July 2020).