Raging fire on container ship brought under control

Mumbai: Four crew members are still untraceable after a raging fire on-board a container ship, sailing 390 nautical miles from India’s Agatti Islands at Lakshadweep, was brought under control by the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) after three days. Earlier, 23 crew members of various nationalities were rescued.

After the 330-m long container ship Maersk Honam carrying a class of dangerous cargo caught fire on March 6 in mid-sea, a sustained firefighting by ICG ship Shoor stopped the fire from spreading to other parts of the ship, said Deputy Commandant Avinandan Mitra, PRO, ICG, West. “Thick plumes of toxic fumes have now been replaced by white smoke which is a sign of cooling down of metal fire on-board the mega container ship,” he said.

Search is on for the four missing crew and it is feared that they are trapped inside the ship. Two firefighting ships from Maersk also joined the firefighting today. It is believed that the crew were taken ill due to toxic smoke inhalation.

The Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre Mumbai received a distress message at 9.45pm on Tuesday from the Singapore flagged ship which had left that city on March 1. Of the ship’s 27 crew members, 13 are Indians including the captain of the ship, and the rest are from Philippines, Romania, South Africa, Thailand and the UK.

The vessel reported an explosion and fire on-board and requested immediate assistance. The Centre immediately alerted all the merchant ships near the location through the satellite based communication network, the International Safety Net. Simultaneously, the ICG ship Shoor, which was patrolling near Lakshadweep Islands and has specialised firefighting equipment on board, was diverted to assist the distressed vessel.

Merchant ship MV Ceres reach Maersk Honam at about 11.25pm and reported that flames from the main deck of the ship was rising up to the ship’s bridge, a height of about 25 metres. The crew had abandoned the ship as fire spread beyond control and 23 crew members were rescued by MV Ceres. Three severely sick survivors were taken on-board a high speed Coast Guard ship from Ceres and were admitted in a Government Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram and are reported to be stable.

The ship in distress was carrying 7,860 containers and in case of fire containers are normally extremely difficult to bring under control since temperatures reach over 500 degrees centigrade and can spread quickly. In this case, thick plumes of toxic flames emanated from the ship and the high temperatures had melted the containers. Primary investigation reveals that the fire started in one of the decks of the ship carrying the chemicals.

Coast Guard Commander West K R Nautiyal said the operation being undertaken 630 nautical miles away from mainland showed the reach and capability of the maritime force “to carry our search and rescue, firefighting, pollution control and any type of emergency response action in the region,” he said. The Coast Guard’s swift action to contain the fire has averted a mega marine pollution in the Arabian Sea considering the amount of dangerous cargo the ship was carrying, he added.

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