Ship ablaze in port

Fire brought un­der con­trol af­ter con­tainer ves­sel docks in Port of Ngqura

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Gareth Wil­son and Ri­aan Marais [email protected]­me­dia.co.za

CHAOS erupted when a 280m con­tainer ship trans­port­ing haz­ardous ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing paint and gas, was forced to dock in Port El­iz­a­beth af­ter a fire broke out on board.

The alarm was raised when the cargo ves­sel, the APL Aus­tria, made a dis­tress call for as­sis­tance to the Mar­itime Res­cue Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­tre shortly be­fore 9pm on Sun­day.

The burn­ing ship an­chored in Al­goa Bay five hours later and, by 11am yes­ter­day, it had been es­corted into the Port of Ngqura, where fire­fight­ers boarded it.

Shortly be­fore it an­chored in Al­goa Bay, the Na­tional Sea Res­cue In­sti­tute (NSRI) and Transnet tug­boats re­sponded to the call for as­sis­tance, which led to the evac­u­a­tion of four non-es­sen­tial per­son­nel, one of whom was slightly in­jured, from the ship.

At 8.30 last night, the fire was un­der con­trol.

Mu­nic­i­pal fire­fight­ers are as­sist­ing with the op­er­a­tions.

Be­fore the dock­ing yes­ter­day, smoke could be seen bil­low­ing from the ship as three Transnet tug­boats sprayed wa­ter on the ves­sel.

Mu­nic­i­pal spokesman Mthubanzi Mniki, com­ment­ing on be­half of the Bay’s fire depart­ment, con­firmed late last night that metro fire­fight­ers were still on board.

He said al­though the blaze had been brought un­der con­trol, the fire-fight­ing team would stay on the ship overnight.

Mniki said some of the con­tain­ers were be­ing off-loaded while oth­ers were be­ing moved out of the dan­ger zone.

Two mu­nic­i­pal res­cue pumps, one Transnet res­cue pump ve­hi­cle, a foam tanker, haz­ardous ma­te­rial unit, a breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus trailer and a mo­bile op­er­a­tions unit had been de­ployed to help com­bat the fire, he said.

Of­fi­cials con­firmed that haz­ardous ma­te­rial such as paint, re­frig­er­a­tion gas and var­i­ous other types of chem­i­cal cargo was on the ship.

The fire broke out while the ves­sel was about 30 nau­ti­cal miles south­west of Cape St Fran­cis, trav­el­ling to­wards Cape Town.

The ship is reg­is­tered in Liberia and owned by APL, an in­ter­na­tional con­tainer ship­ping provider that trans­ports an as­sort­ment of cargo.

SA Mar­itime Safety Author­ity (Samsa) tech­ni­cal ad­viser Cap­tain Daron Burgess, who was on the ship yes­ter­day, said: “Ini­tially it was thought that the fire was in the num­ber three cargo hold, but it was later con­firmed that it was ac­tu­ally in num­ber four.

“The ves­sel was in­structed to pro­ceed to Al­goa Bay an­chor­age and she ar­rived at about 2am [yes­ter­day],” he said.

Burgess, to­gether with Transnet of­fi­cials and two fire­fight­ers, boarded the ship at about 4am.

At 5am, the APL Aus­tria was or­dered to move fur­ther out to sea inside the bay to clear the way for other ves­sels that needed to an­chor.

Shortly af­ter news of the fire broke, a Joint Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre (JOC) con­sist­ing of the Nel­son Man­dela Bay Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices, the fire depart­ment, Transnet and Samsa was es­tab­lished at the Port of Ngqura.

Of the 21 crew mem­bers, four were evac­u­ated, with the oth­ers stay­ing on board to fight the blaze.

Air force he­li­copters were also placed on standby.

Burgess con­firmed that sev­eral con­tain­ers con­tain­ing haz­ardous cargo were on deck but had not been af­fected by the fire.

He said the cause of the fire was be­ing in­ves­ti­gated.

By 11am, the ship had been es­corted to the Port of Ngqura by three Transnet tugs and the NSRI.

Bay Emer­gency Med­i­cal Ser­vices man­ager Bren­han Me­tune con­firmed that one per­son was slightly hurt dur­ing the in­ci­dent.

“One crew mem­ber in­jured his leg and was evac­u­ated dur­ing the early hours and taken to a Port El­iz­a­beth hos­pi­tal,” he said.

Picture: EU­GENE COET­ZEE

TO THE RES­CUE: A tug­boat sprays the APL Aus­tria, which was forced to dock in the Port of Ngqura yes­ter­day af­ter a fire broke out on board

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