GEAR & TECH

Proper fire prevention would have saved the lost Argentinian sub

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Wyatt L. Anthony)

The loss of the Argentinean Navy submarine, ARA San Juan, last November cost the lives of 44 sailors. The cause of this tragic accident was traced back to a fire that occurred after seawater got caught in the submarine's "snorkel." But could the San Juan have been saved?

According to the capabilities of a Finnish fire-suppression system, maybe so.


That system is called HI-FOG, developed by the Marioff Corporation. According to official handouts, the system doesn't use halon gas, but instead uses water in a unique fashion to suppress fires. The system creates a fine mist of water, with droplets as small as 50 microns across.

The HI-FOG fire-suppression system creates a mist of water where the particles are as small as 50 microns.

(Marioff Corporation)

This changes the game in a few important ways. Halon gas knocks out fires, but has been out of production since 1994. You see, halon is a chlorofluorocarbon, or CFC, and CFCs were banned to protect the ozone layer. That's great news for the environment, but when people desperately need a non-toxic way to quickly snuff out a fire in a confined area (like a submarine), they're mostly out of luck.

The fine water mist is designed to do the same thing as halon used to: knock out fires quickly. Using a mist of water brings about other benefits, namely the ability to replenish supply with seawater when necessary. The system also allows crews to stay in the compartment as the mist is dispensed to carry out damage control measures.

The system's pumps can be operated by either a gas generator or electrical power. While we will never be able to know for sure whether this system could have saved the crew of ARA San Juan, it is safe to say it would have given them a fighting chance.