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inert gas systems for oil tanker operation

• Hydrocarbon gas normally encountered in petroleum tankers cannot burn in an atmosphere containing less than approximately 11% oxygen by volume.

Accordingly, one way to provide protection against fire or explosion in the vapour space of cargo tanks is to keep the oxygen level below that figure.

• This is usually achieved by using a fixed piping arrangement to blow inert gas into each cargo tank in order to reduce the air content

• For practical purposes, the lower and upper flammable limits (LFL and UFL) of crude oil vapours are taken to be 1% and 10% respectively by volume.

• For practical purposes and to allow a safety margin, 8% is taken as the level of oxygen at which no hydrocarbon gas/air mixture can burn under any ircumstances.

• To prevent fire or explosion in a tank containing a hydrocarbon gas/air mixture, it is therefore necessary to produce and supply inert gas having an oxygen content not normally exceeding 5% and to displace the existing air in the tank until the resultant oxygen level throughout the tank does not exceed 8% by volume.

The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS 1974), as amended, requires that inert gas systems be capable of delivering inert gas with an oxygen content in the inert gas main of not more than 5% by volume at any required rate of flow; and of maintaining a positive pressure in the cargo tanks at all times with an atmosphere having an oxygen content of not more than 8% by volume except when it is necessary for the tank to be gas free. Existing systems are only required to be capable of producing inert gas with an oxygen content not normally exceeding 5% by volume, and of maintaining the tank inerted at all times except when it is necessary for the tank to be gas free.

• Tanker personnel should be alert to the possible degradation of inert gas quality as a result of air being drawn into the tanks due to inappropriate operation of the inert gas or cargo systems, for example, by:

– Not topping-up the inert gas promptly if the pressure in the system falls, for example, due to temperature changes at night.

– Prolonged opening of tank apertures for tank gauging, sampling and, dipping.

• During tank entry operations, any draining of water from a non-inerted tank into the slop tank will result in entrainment of air into the drainings and, ultimately, into the inerted tank atmospheres via the slop tank. The volume of air entrained in this manner can be particularly high if an eductor is used on recirculation to the slop tank. If the liquid is to be drained to the slop tank, the inert gas quality in all tanks should be closely monitored.

Full flow pressure/vacuum venting arrangement

• In inert gas systems fitted with tank isolating valves, protection from over and under pressurisation of the cargo tanks may be provided by using high velocity vent and vacuum valves as the full flow protection device.

• Where this is the case, particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the valves operate at the required pressure and vacuum settings. Planned maintenance procedures should be established to maintain and test these safety devices.

Deck water seal

• To avoid back flow of gas from the cargo tanks

• To prevent backfloe of liquid which may enter the inert gas main, if cargo tank overfilled

Deck water seal • To avoid back flow of gas from the cargo tanks • To