As LNG adoption inches ahead, fire safety measures multiply


Given the tremendous pressures to meet environmental goals and take advantage of new fuel sources, it is no wonder that liquefied natural gas (LNG) is being given more and more credence as a source of maritime power.

It’s no longer a matter of experimentation, either. Helping to lead the way are the Marlin-class vessels recently introduced by TOTE Maritime, the first containerships in the world to be powered by LNG. This required groundbreaking LNG bunkering operations that have been important in helping to frame both national and global standards, according to the company. Meanwhile, SEA/LNG, an industry coalition aiming to accelerate the widespread adoption of LNG as a marine fuel, estimates that there are 119 LNG-powered vessels currently in operation with another 125 on order. The group has created an online tool to provide the maritime community with information about the worldwide growth of LNG bunkering infrastructure. In short, LNG is here to stay.

But ensuring that LNG is not only practical but safe is also a matter getting more attention. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has published training requirements, and the U.S. Coast Guard has published guidelines for the safe use of LNG as a fuel and for crews working on vessels with gaseous fuels, said Tom Guldner, president of Marine Firefighting Inc. of Boynton Beach, Fla. He cited as an example IMO Resolution MSC.285(86), “Interim Guidelines on Safety for Natural Gas-Fueled Engine Installations in Ships.”

Tom Guldner, president of Marine Firefighting Inc. of Boynton Beach, Fla., says it is often better to let an LNG fire burn itself out rather than trying to extinguish it. Traditional firefighting agents like water and aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) will cause an LNG fire to intensify.

Courtesy Marine Firefighting Inc.

These publications related to bunkering on an LNG-fueled vessel are designed to either eliminate the risk of a spill or fire, or reduce the amount of a spill should there be a release, Guldner said. “Mariners will need to be trained about the properties of LNG and how it would react if accidentally released,” he said, adding that most previous standard firefighting procedures are not effective on an LNG fire.

In general, LNG fires emit significantly more heat than similarly sized gasoline or diesel fires, in part because LNG burns faster than those common fuels. The most effective extinguishing agent for LNG fires, and typically the only practical one, is a dry chemical agent.

In many cases, Guldner noted, it may be preferable to allow the fire to burn itself out rather than attempting to extinguish it if the first option can be accomplished without extensive damage. He said that might seem counterintuitive, but once a fire involving an LNG spill is extinguished, responders are left with the odorless natural gas, “which could cause more of a problem than the fire.”

“Vapor release is taken very seriously. If the LNG is contained within the tanks and piping system, then it remains too rich to burn,” Guldner said.

Mariners discuss safe procedures for LNG bunkering while using a simulator at the United States Maritime Resource Center (USMRC) in Middletown, R.I. The facility offers basic and advanced training in LNG bunkering, including truck to ship, ship to ship, and LNG terminal to ship.

Courtesy USMRC

There are currently two levels of training available for mariners working aboard vessels fueled with LNG: basic and advanced. Basic training is recommended for all crewmembers on an LNG-fueled vessel, as outlined in MSC.285(86), and it should cover safety, operations and maintenance procedures. Crewmembers serving as part of the designated basic safety crew must receive training in emergency response as well, which includes practical extinguishing of gas fires.

According to Guldner, the advanced level of training is required for crewmembers who have duties directly involving the transfer, storage and use of the LNG system under Coast Guard regulations, in accordance with MSC.285(86). Those regulations state the master, engineering officers and all personnel with immediate responsibility for the use of fuel and fuel systems on board these vessels should receive advanced training.

Tyler Edgar, spokeswoman for TOTE Inc. of Federal Way, Wash., said the company has worked closely with the American Maritime Officers (AMO) and the Seafarers International Union (SIU) to ensure that every crewmember on its LNG-powered ships is prepared. TOTE has two dual-fuel containerships, the 764-foot Marlin-class Isla Bella and Perla del Caribe, and it is converting two 839-foot Orca-class cargo ships, Midnight Sun and North Star, to run on LNG as well.

“Each of these unions has classes in place for (its) members,” Edgar said, adding that AMO members, who are the officers on board, also receive specialized training at the STAR Center in Dania Beach, Fla. “Officers take the weeklong course specifically covering safety and operations of LNG as a ship’s fuel.”

In 2015, TOTE and SIU developed a four-day basic low-flashpoint fuel operations course taught at the Paul Hall Center for Maritime Training and Education in Piney Point, Md.

“The crews of the Marlin-class vessels run regular firefighting and spill response drills” at sea and in port with stevedores, longshoremen, terminal staff and local first responders, Edgar said. “The collaborative approach, hands-on training and real-world drills ensure LNG provides a higher level of safety over conventional fuels.”

In addition to this operations and safety training, the company is working closely with the Fire Academy of the South in Jacksonville, Fla., to develop more in-depth LNG training that would be available to any crewmember aboard TOTE’s vessels, she said.

Guldner said many schools are scrambling to develop training programs that will meet the existing national and international standards and guidelines. Some have developed simulators replicating LNG bunkering procedures.

“It is my feeling that crews should be trained on their own vessel’s equipment or on simulators designed for that specific vessel,” he said.

The United States Maritime Resource Center (USMRC) in Middletown, R.I., offers both basic and advanced training in LNG bunkering operations. The course content is technical with an emphasis on safety and is focused on “vessel bunkering operations, the storage and handling of LNG marine fuel on board, and the interface or connections with LNG bunker suppliers,” said Brian Holden, USMRC president. That includes truck to ship, bunker vessel to ship, and LNG terminal to ship.

The courses are primarily designed for seafarers and facility personnel directly involved in LNG bunkering operations, he said. However, the courses also are relevant for other shore-based industry professionals and public-sector stakeholders who stand to benefit from a deeper technical understanding of LNG bunkering operations.

Isla Bella, the world’s first LNG-powered containership, heads for sea trials in August 2015 off the coast of San Diego, Calif. Ship operator TOTE Inc. has partnered with two unions, the American Maritime Officers and the Seafarers International Union, to provide training for crewmembers in LNG safety and operations.

Courtesy TOTE Inc.

Holden said USMRC has provided training for many U.S. vessel operators and at least three vessel owners in Canada.

“It all got started back in 2014 with USMRC developing the courses through a collaborative partnership with the first operator of an LNG-fueled vessel in North America, Harvey Gulf International Marine, and by a team of LNG marine fuel subject-matter experts with significant and diverse operational experience,” he said. These experts also provide the course instruction.

Harvey Gulf’s fleet includes five LNG-powered, 310-foot platform supply vessels: Harvey Energy, Harvey Power, Harvey Liberty, Harvey Freedom and Harvey America. At least three of the PSVs are under charter by Shell for deepwater operations in the Gulf of Mexico.

LNG course content at USMRC was developed ahead of the related national and international regulatory initiatives but aligned with them, Holden said. LNG marine fuel requirements under the Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW) went into effect in January 2017, “but there are still no corresponding regulatory mandates here in the U.S., only guidelines,” he said. As a result, mariners who complete the training, comply with the STCW requirements and meet the Coast Guard guidelines are not being issued a corresponding endorsement on their Merchant Mariner Credential (MMC).

Since entering service in late 2015 and early 2016, respectively, TOTE’s Isla Bella and Perla del Caribe have used truck-to-ship bunkering to refuel in Jacksonville, Fla. Ship-to-ship LNG bunkering is scheduled to begin this year with the barge Clean Jacksonville.

Courtesy TOTE Inc.

For the emergency response and firefighting topics that USMRC covers, the center works with the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX) Emergency Services Training Institute in College Station, Texas. Training director Kirk Richardson said the institute has been providing hands-on LNG vapor control and fire suppression training since 1979.

“Our LNG emergency response course was originally developed to train U.S. mariners destined for El Paso Marine Corp.’s LNG tankers,” he said.

Since that time, the majority of students participating in the classes have come from LNG import and export facilities. In October 2016, Richardson began providing the hands-on LNG firefighting/vapor control training component for the USMRC basic and advanced low-flashpoint fuel operations course (LNG marine fuel) taught in College Station at the Brayton Fire Training Field. The course is “designed to prepare mariners and facility personnel to serve as persons in charge of LNG bunkering operations for gas-fueled vessels,” he said.

Traditional fire-extinguishing agents like water and aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) concentrates will not extinguish an LNG fire, Richardson said. The application of water or AFFF onto burning LNG will only cause the fire to significantly intensify.

“Vapor control is always a significant concern with any sizable LNG spill due to the rapid vaporization rate of the cryogenic liquid that occurs as it comes into contact with materials that are significantly warmer than the LNG,” he said.

Since its introduction as a marine fuel at the turn of the 21st century, LNG-fueled vessels and bunkering operations have had an exemplary safety record, according to SEA/LNG. For example, the industry coalition noted that the Viking Grace cruise ferry has bunkered, without incident, more than 1,000 times in Stockholm since its entry into service in 2013. But just in case, training centers are making sure mariners are prepared.

By Professional Mariner Staff