January 2018: Cargo hold lights

This safety update is issued to raise awareness of the potential risk of fire when cargo is stowed against cargo hold lights. It provides safe practice tips for how best to reduce the risks involved.

This safety update is for

  • New Zealand ship owners, operators, masters and crew
  • Ship agents
  • Stevedores
  • Maritime NZ maritime officers, investigators and technical advisors



In September 2017, breakbulk timber stowed in the hold of a fully cellular container vessel caught fire while the vessel was alongside in a New Zealand port. The source of ignition was a 500 watt hold light. This light was left on with the cargo stowed in close proximity.


Precautions and procedures

Cargo hold lights fitted with high wattage bulbs are a significant source of heat and, as a matter of good practice personnel onboard or associated with the loading of vessels should be aware of the risk of fire when combustible cargo is stowed against them.

An assessment to identify fire hazards should be completed before loading combustible cargoes in any hold. Combustible cargoes include such things as grains, animal feed, wood chips, pulp, paper, timber or coal. This is especially important when a hold is not being used for its primary design or other instances where fire hazards may not have been identified in generic risk assessments.

Measures to reduce fire risk from hold lights might include:

  • substitution of high wattage bulbs with LED equivalents
  • stowage plans that leave appropriate clearance
  • monitoring and turning off lights before cargo reaches the level of lights
  • electrical isolation of lights when not in use.

Whatever combination of risk mitigation measures is used, all efforts must be made to avoid hot hold lights being over-stowed by cargo.

Further reading

Further information on fires caused by cargo hold lights is available from the following sources:

The Swedish Club Fire! A guide to the causes and prevention of cargo fires

IHS Fairplay Marine fire expert highlights little-known ship hold fire risks Savvides, N (2017)


Contact us for more help

If you have any questions about this safety update, please contact our Wellington office.


New Zealand (toll free):
0508 225 522


Tell us what you need help with and remember to include your contact details (email address and phone numbers).