MV Hyundai Fortune on fire, with HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën in the background, 2006. Photo by Ministerie van Defensie

What is EmS and how this is used?

What happens when there is a fire or spillage involving packaged dangerous goods on board ships? How do Master and his crew deal with such situations?

Firefighting on board ships are very difficult and pose extreme hazards to the crew while executing it. Water is plenty at sea but incompatible with many chemicals to fight fire and flooding of cargo hold with water may cause stability issues.

Some of the recent fires have caught attention of expert prompting them to rethink the strategy of firefighting on container ships. You may recall the fires on Maersk Karachi, CCNI Aruaco, MSC Fleminia, Hyundai Fortune, Hanjin Pennsylvania and many more.

Where do Master and his crew get information on specific measures for fighting fires and dealing with spillage of different types of dangerous goods?

According to Regulation 4(2) of SOLAS Chapter VII Part A and Regulation 4(2) of Annex III of MARPOL each ship carrying dangerous goods and marine pollutants in packaged form shall have a special list, manifest or stowage plan setting forth the dangerous goods on board and the location thereof. This list must contain dangerous goods information as required by chapters 5.4 and 5.5 of IMDG Code.

EmS means ‘Emergency Response Procedures for Ships Carrying Dangerous Goods (EmS Guide) and EmS codes are assigned to each UN Number in column 15 of Dangerous Goods List in IMDG Code chapter 3.2. EmS is two part codes first for fire starting with letter “F” and second for spillage starting with letter “S”.  EmS tables are published in supplement to IMDG Code.  Fire schedule codes are from F-A to F-J and spillage schedule codes are from S-A to S-Z.

A well trained crew is the best team to deal with fire on board ships keeping this in mind the on board training must include EmS to be well prepared for incidents involving fire or spillage.

Let us look at a scenario of fire in container on deck and under deck cargo spaces. As the method for fighting fire on and under deck varies significantly.


Fire Emergency on board ship

  • Cargo :               UN 1339 PHOSPHORUS HEPTASULPHIDE Class 4.1
  • Stowage:          Category B (On or Under Deck)
  • EmS :                F-G, S-G

If a container carrying above goods is burning, ship staff will identify the UN Number and look at the EmS and find the fire schedule published in the Supplement to IMDG Code.  Below Table is for F-G (Water reactive substances).


On Deck Fire

In the above table look at the red boxes highlighted.  Cargo fire on deck and under deck. On deck is divided into packages and cargo transport units (container). Fighting fire directly on burning packages on deck or packages burning inside container need different approaches.

Water must never be applied to the packages as this substance is water reactive the fire will dangerously increase. For containerized cargo the advice is If the fire is not igniting nearby cargoes, let the fire burn. Otherwise, cool the burning transport unit with copious quantities of water. Try to avoid getting water into the container”.

Copious quantities of water” means total quantities of water provided for optimal fire-fighting using four jets of water, as required by SOLAS regulation II-2/4.

Under Deck Fire

For fire under deck involving same cargo the advice is to stop ventilation to the cargo hold and use the fixed gas fire-extinguishing system. This is flooding the cargo hold with carbon dioxide. However, when packages are burning inside containers flooding of cargo space with carbon dioxide or any other inert gas has little or no effect.

Special cases – Example Magnesium Powder fire

When there is a special case for a particular substance the EmS code will be underlined in column 15 of dangerous goods list in chapter 3.2 of IMDG Code.  For example, UN 1418 EmS is F-G, S-O.

In the above table of F-G the special case for UN 1418 says “LITHIUM, non-pyrophoric and MAGNESIUM POWDER require the use of dry Lithium chloride or dry sodium chloride or graphite powder to extinguish the fire. Do NOT use water or foam.”

Magnesium burns with very intense bright white flame and extreme heat which can cause flash blindness as equal to looking at welding arc or staring at bright sun.

The best effective method of fighting fire involving UN 1418 MAGNESIUM POWDER is by applying of dry sodium chloride directly on the burning substances. This must be applied as a circling ring around the fire gradually closing on towards the center with a thickness of 2 or more inches.  

However, when containerized UN 1418 Magnesium Powder is burning inside the container these special firefighting powers cannot be applied.

There were certain cases when containers carrying UN 1418 is offered to load vessel command asked for dry Lithium chloride or dry sodium chloride or graphite powder to deal with emergency involving fire. This results in confusion as to how much quantity to be supplied, custom clearances and what happens to these firefighting media after the container is discharged without an event.

Spillage Emergency on board ship

  • Cargo :               UN 1339 PHOSPHORUS HEPTASULPHIDE Class 4.1
  • Stowage:           Category B (On or Under Deck)
  • EmS :                  F-G, S-G


 Fire and Spillage schedules in IMDG Code


Do you know when two or more dangerous goods with different fire schedules are loaded in same container firefighting become more complex? 

Effective training to shore side can greatly minimize incidents on board ships as misdeclared and or undeclared goods and poorly packed or consigned dangerous goods causes majority of fires on board ships jeopardizing lives at sea.


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