Fishing-risksUK: Two of the leading marine insurance companies have joined forces to warn of the potentially lethal risks of refrigerant leaks on fishing vessels.

The North P&I Club and the Shipowners’ Club have jointly published a technical loss prevention briefing on how to minimise the risks arising from poor operation and maintenance of refrigeration systems on fishing vessels.

“Refrigeration systems are installed and used on a large number of fishing vessels worldwide,” said Craig McBurnie, underwriting manager at North P&I company Sunderland Marine. “The sizes of these plants vary depending on purpose and application, but they can be on an almost industrial scale, particularly on vessels which freeze or process their catch on board,” he added.

“Unfortunately there have been numerous incidents involving these refrigeration systems in the past decade, mostly relating to uncontrolled escape of potentially toxic refrigerant gases. Many of these incidents have resulted in serious injuries, some fatal, to fishing vessel crew members and shore-based workers.”

Ammonia-equipment

Ammonia receivers with colour-coded pipework and protective grating around exposed parts

North’s loss prevention executive Alvin Forster commented: “With our shared commitment to improving fishing vessel safety, North, Sunderland Marine and Shipowners’ have shared and reviewed their respective claims experience and identified a number of common causal factors. Our new loss prevention briefing provides recommendations to fishing vessel owners and operators on how to help avoid future incidents.”

Causal factors identified by the insurers include fishing crews being unaware of the hazards of fluorocarbon and ammonia gas refrigerants; poor condition of the refrigeration plant and its components; poor standards of operation and maintenance of the refrigeration plant; and the positioning of unprotected refrigeration plant and equipment on the back deck or in busy working areas, with insufficient warning signage and impact protection.

In addition North says there have been failures to identify high-risk tasks relating to the plant operation and maintenance; insufficient or inadequate levels of formal training in refrigeration engineering and plant-specific operation; and defective or missing gas-leak detection alarms.

“In the event of a leak, rescue operations were sometimes carried out without using breathing apparatus or without following a safe procedure,” said McBurnie. “There was also evidence of poor emergency and evacuation procedures; a lack of crew familiarity in what to do in such an event; and improperly inspected and tested safety equipment.”   

Recommendations in the loss prevention briefing include the importance of crew members knowing and understanding the hazards of refrigeration systems; the need for safe systems of operation; the importance of regular and properly recorded maintenance; the need for safe design and positioning of retrofitted systems; and the importance of effective response management.

The document can be downloaded here.