Non-approved electrical equipment can cause serious problems on board

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Incorrect electrical installations or non-approved electronic equipment can have disastrous consequences for a ship. The Swedish Transport Agency plans to develop regulations for vetting the onshore electricity companies that carry out electrical work at sea, which do not currently exist.
“This is no problem for serious companies that have experience of working with ships, since they will fulfil these checks by performing their work in accordance with IEC standards and existing regulations. For less serious companies and cowboys it will be more of a worry and the consequences could be severe,” says Saeed Mohebbi, who works with electrical safety issues at the Transport Agency.
The Agency wanted electricity companies that carry out electrical work on ships to be covered by the same rules which are in force onshore, but this was not stated in the new Electricity Act. The task will be managed by the Transport Agency instead, which is now planning to produce regulations for the job. Saeed Mohebbi guesses this will take between one and two years. He describes two different areas of electrical problems in shipping: electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) and electrical safety. EMC concerns equipment which emits electromagnetic radiation that can interfere with other electronic devices on board. Incorrect installation or non-approved components could jeopardise vital equipment such as control systems, radar or communication units.
“We have had reports from ships where equipment has gone out of control or radio devices have short-circuited. If the ship is in a busy fairway or other sensitive area, the risk of an accident could be large,” says Saeed Mohebbi.
To avoid this kind of problem, Saeed Mohebbi advises against buying electronic equipment which is not classified and approved under EU standards, or which is not CE marked. This includes everything from normal lamps to more advanced equipment.
Avoid cheap online shopping
“Don’t buy from discount stores or cheap foreign websites. The products may cause EMC problems even though they work perfectly well, or they can cause problems that are very difficult to diagnose when they start to fail.”
It is important to follow the recommendations on the protection of light sources and other equipment on board which can cause sparks, points out Saeed Mohebbi, above all in spaces with a hazardous or explosive atmosphere such as paint stores, battery rooms and certain holds.
“It is essential that the electrical equipment has the right enclosure class in accordance with the Transport Agency’s recommendations on IP rating of electrical equipment. The risks associated with hazardous atmospheres are probably highest on tankers, but there is a risk of fire and explosions on all kinds of ships,” he says.
It is also important to use the correct cables and carry out proper cable-laying in electrical installations. Battery cables with large currents must be held apart and protected against mechanical damage, so that the risk of accidentally cutting them or walking on them is minimised.
“There are about a hundred different standards for electrical installations at sea and it is vital that they are complied with. It is up to the shipping company and the master to ensure that electrical work on board is carried out by qualified personnel who know what applies at sea,” says Saeed Mohebbi.
Linda Sundgren
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