Fire Aboard ‘The Midnight Sun’ - Revealing The Hazards Of RORO Shipping

(4 January, 2023)

An image of a roro ship unloading cars representing the hazards of roro shipping

In September 2022, a small fire broke out on the upper deck of the Midnight Sun, an Orca-class RORO ferry built in 2003, while moored in port in Tacoma, Washington (USA). While the crew put out the fire quickly and the vessel wasn't carrying any cargo at the time, the incident highlights an important safety hazard inherent to RORO vessels. A fire onboard a fully loaded RORO vessel can quickly feed on combustible fuel in stowed vehicle tanks, becoming a conflagration that threatens the integrity of the vessel itself. 

Even a minor fire has the potential to cause £millions in damage to valuable commercial cargo, leading many automotive logistics businesses to consider container ships as a much safer alternative for transporting cars than roll-on/roll-off (RORO) vessels.

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A Fire Can Lead To Extensive Damage Or Even Complete Loss Of Cargo

In theory, RORO ships are relatively safe. Vehicles are rolled on and off the vessel with only a minimal fuel load. They're stored on specialised decks for the journey that are completely enclosed to protect the cars from the elements. They also feature securing points on the floor to keep the vehicles in place during rough seas.

However, this doesn't do anything to protect the vehicles from fire. If a fire were to break out on a RORO ship, it would have free reign to spread throughout the vessel, potentially damaging or destroying every vehicle on board.

In contrast, transporting cars in self-contained, fireproof shipping containers offers much more protection against fire. The containers themselves act as a barrier, stopping the fire from spreading and preventing it from coming into contact with the vehicles. Even if a single container were to catch fire, the other containers would provide sufficient insulation to stop the blaze from damaging other cars in the shipment.

Other Potential Hazards With RORO Shipping

Fire isn't the only danger that cars face when shipped via RORO vessels. The loading and unloading process is also potentially hazardous, as vehicles can be damaged if they're not adequately secured.

RORO ships typically have large ramps that lower down to the dock when loading or unloading the vehicles. The cars are driven up the ramp and onto the boat, where they're secured. However, if a car isn't properly secured, it can slide or roll around during the journey, potentially causing extensive damage.

Plus, the risk of damage occurring while the vehicles are being loaded or unloaded is relatively high. Scratches, dings, and dents are all common, as is more severe damage like bent frames or broken windows.

In most cases, these sorts of incidents are minor and can be easily repaired. However, they can still add up to significant costs, particularly if multiple vehicles are damaged. Conversely, when cars are transported in containers, they're completely isolated from the loading and unloading process. The containers are lifted on and off the ship using cranes, so there's no risk of the vehicles being damaged.

Essentially, the cars are loaded into the container at their point of departure and remain secure until they reach their destination. As a result, they are subject to far less handling and are much less likely to be damaged during transit.

Reduce The Risk Of Damage With Container Shipping

As an automotive logistics company, ensuring the vehicles you transport arrive at their destination in the same condition they left in is critical. RORO shipping is too risky, as there's a greater chance of damage during transit from fire and other hazards.

Container shipping is a much safer option, as it reduces the risk of fire and other potential hazards. Plus, it provides a higher level of protection for the vehicles, significantly increasing the odds that they arrive at their destination in the same condition they left in.

For these reasons, it's always best to choose container shipping when transporting cars. It may cost a little more upfront, but it will save you money in the long run by reducing the risk of damage.

Please get in touch with Trans Rak today to find out more about our racking solutions for containerised car transport.

The Containerised Car Transport Guide

Image Source: Canva

The Containerised Car Transport Guide

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