UK P&I Club advises how to reduce the risk of engine room fires


Tony Watson, Risk Assessor at UK P&I Club in conjunction with Burgoyne’s, highlights the risk and impact of engine room fires onboard ships, and recommends steps to prevent and supress fires.

Research coordinated by IMO has indicated that between 30 and 50% of all fires in merchant ships originate in the engine room and 70% of those fires are caused by oil leaks from pressurised systems. Following a major engine room fire it is rare that a ship is able to proceed under her own power. This leads to expensive costs of salvage, towage, repairs, downtime, and cancellation of cruises, which can typically run into millions of dollars.

Oil fires are the most serious category of engine room fires, and usually occur when oil from a large leak or a smaller but persistent leak comes into contact with a nearby hot surface at a temperature that exceeds the ‘minimum auto ignition temperature’ (MAIT) of the oil. Oil fires often develop and spread quickly, compromising the safety of engine room personnel and, in the case of generators, damaging associated main electrical cabling feeding the switchboard which can lead to a loss of electrical power.

It is essential to employ good maintenance systems and engineering principles in order to reduce the risk of oil leaks. This includes attending to minor leaks without delay, tightening connections to fuel injectors and fuel injection pumps to the correct torque to prevent leakage, and maintaining oil leak detection and alarm equipment that can warn of the presence of oil leaks in concealed areas.

While engine room fires are one of the most common fires on ships, an extended period of time onboard a ship without a fire incident can lead to complacency and a failure to prioritise fire prevention measures and simulated fire incident practices. Crew members must ensure that machinery and emergency control equipment are installed and operating in accordance with SOLAS Regulations and IMO Guidelines, and that frequent fire prevention and firefighting training is undertaken.

UK P&I shares top tips on how to reduce the risk of a fire in an engine room:


· Ensure oil leaks are attended to promptly by affecting permanent repairs and that oil leak alarms on generators are in good operating order
· Where required by SOLAS II-2, make sure oil pipes are sleeved, pipe joints are shielded, and that all oil pipework is supported in correct fitting pipe clamps
· Carry out routine temperature measurements of shielded or clad hot surfaces to ensure that even small parts are not exposed. This can be achieved by using an Infra-red temperature gun
· Keep engine room stores and workshops tidy and that packaging material is not close to light fittings
· Ensure that drain lines in oil tank save-alls are clear and the save-alls are kept clean and free of solid materials such as cotton waste or rags
· Check the oil tank gauge glass self-closing cocks are unrestricted and that oil tank quick closing valves are properly armed and tested regularly
· Ensure that fire detection equipment is properly maintained and operable
· Ensure that automatic closing mechanisms on all fire doors within and at the boundaries of the engine room are working correctly
· Check that ventilation closures are operable, are visually free of corrosion and provide a reasonable seal
· Ensure that portable fire-fighting appliances are correctly positioned and serviced and that fire-fighting installations are properly maintained and armed
· Carry out routine fire drills to address different simulated fire incidents in various parts of the engine room


· Allow smoking in the engine room
· Make temporary repairs to oil containing pipe work
· Work on pressurised fuel systems
· Secure open self-closing oil tank gauge glasses
· Secure open by external means oil tank quick closing valves
· Secure open fire doors within and at the boundaries of the engine room
· Carry out hot-work in the engine room without a correctly completed, properly considered permit to work and until all necessary hot work precautions are in place

Source: UK P&I Club

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