Pretoria: 13 February 2017
The cause of a major blaze on board the APL Austria, a Liberian flagged cargo vessel now docked at Ngqura harbour, some 30km east of Port Elizabeth, may take time to determine; the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) said on Monday as firefighters continued to battle the blaze earlier in the day.
According to Captain Daron Burgess, a Principal Officer for SAMSA’s Southern region; rescue services were set in motion on Sunday afternoon, at approximately 5.49pm, after the SAMSA Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) located in Cape Town was alerted of a fire on board the container vessel.
At the time, according to Capt Burgess, the vessel was 30 nautical miles South-West of Cape St Francis – some 50-70 kilometers west of the city of Port Elizabeth.
He said when alerting the MRCC, the crew of the vessel had been of the impression that the fire was on the vessel’s “No.3 cargo hold” only to be later established as having broke out in its “No.4 cargo hold”.
The APL Austria built in 2007 is about 280 meters in length overall, with a beam of about 40m and a gross tonnage of about 71 867 tons and a deadweight of some 72 807t.
“The vessel was instructed to proceed to Algoa Bay anchorage and she arrived at the anchorage area at 02h00 this morning, Monday 13 February 2017. There are several containers containing hazardous cargo on deck above No.4 cargo hold, but fortunately none of them were on fire,” said Capt Burgess.
According to Capt Burgess, relevant senior officials of the port of Ngqurha, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and SAMSA boarded the vessel from about 4am on Monday for an assessment of its conditions while firefighters, inclusive of three TNPA harbour tugs assisted with the firefighting operation by providing boundary cooling.
“Lots of black smoke was emanating from the vessel. The weather conditions have been favourable since the incident occurred, with a light South-Easterly wind. The vessel heaved anchor at about O5hOO this morning and was instructed to proceed further out in the bay to clear the other vessels at the anchorage area. The tugs continued with boundary cooling during the morning hours; during the night the vessel used their on board fire extinguishing media.
“After the fire was relatively under control, arrangements were made to take the vessel into the Port of Ngqura with the Metro Fire Fighters on standby and to deal with the situation upon arrival alongside. The vessel entered the Port of Ngqura at approximately 10h00 this morning. It is not yet clear at this stage what caused the fire. An investigation will be undertaken once the fire is extinguished to try and establish the cause of the fire,” reported Capt Burgess.