Combustible, fiber-reinforced lightweight composites approved for the first time in a SOLAS ship

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea SOLAS contains fire protection requirements for international shipping. While in the past all ships had their structures made of steel, in 2002, a new performance-based regulation was implemented in the SOLAS fire safety chapter which allowed for “Alternative design and arrangements” under SOLAS II-2 Regulation 17. It basically also allows the use of combustible, flame retarded, fiber-reinforced composites for specific applications, as far as they meet stringent requirements for fire safety and fire resistance. Up to now, it was virtually not possible to obtain approval for these new combustible materials as no flag state had fully accepted the combustible lightweight solution instead of steel.

In January 2015, the Technical Research Institute of Sweden (SP) has announced that combustible, fiber-reinforced, lightweight composites have now been approved for the first time for use in a SOLAS ship. Panama's flag authority has accepted a design where fiber-reinforced plastic (FRP) hatches will replace steel hatches. Lightweight composites have a number of advantages vs. steel. Ships can be made lighter, which reduces fuel consumption and emissions, and there is no corrosion. SP has pursued a range of projects since 2004 to develop methods and produce information to enable approval of combustible, lightweight FRP composites on ships.

The ship, a cargo vessel measuring 225 m by 32 m, has now been approved for conversion. SP has been responsible for the fire analysis in accordance with SOLAS Regulation 17, which is used to show how to achieve fire safety equivalent to steel, to make the approval possible. This can be seen as a breakthrough. SP Fire Research also cooperates very actively with the International Maritime Organization IMO in developing fire risk management guidelines for using composites on SOLAS ships.