Pretoria: 16 February 2017
With the fire that raged for days on board the APL Austria docked at the port of Ngqura near Port Elizabeth now effectively extinguished, the vessel’s rescue has entered a mop-up phase during which debris and contaminated water filling up some of its cargo holds will be dispersed with, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) reported overnight.
“The good news is that the fire on board is completely extinguished and port operations continued as per normal (with) two additional large container ships docking at the port today (Wednesday) where for a while no ships were allowed into the port while the APL AUSTRIA was on fire” said Captain Daron Burgess, SAMSA’s technical manager for the Southern Region.
According to Capt. Burgess the mop-up involves removal of damaged containers and containment of their content. The teams will also drain out approximately 3000 cubic meters (three thousand) of water, ash and residue inside of No.4 cargo hold of the vessel – a disposal that will be preceded by a scientific analysis of the water to determine its toxicity and related pollutants to the environment prior to dumping.
“The plan is that if the water contains no marine pollutants, then it will be transferred into ballast water tanks on board. However, if containing marine pollutants, we will have to re-assess the situation and most probably will have to discharge ashore in approved receptacles and to be disposed of according to DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) requirements,’ said Capt. Burgess.
Meanwhile, he said; two (2) fire experts had already begun inspecting the vessel to try and establish what caused the fire that ensued on Sunday afternoon while the APL Austria was sailing westward in the Indian Ocean alongside the South African coast towards the Cape Peninsula.
According to SAMSA’s Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) in Cape Town, the Liberia flagged cargo vessel was approximately 30 nautical miles south west of Jeffreys Bay – some 50-70 kilometers west of Port Elizabeth – when it raised an alarm about the fire on board at about 5pm.
The MRCC redirected the 72 000 ton, 280m wide vessel back to the port of Port Elizabeth overnight and later had it dock at the port of Ngqura by Monday where rescue operations both on board, on the ground as well as on water, got fully activated; with the vessel’s crew having been successfully evacuated.
Last night, Capt. Burgess said initial inspection indicated that there was not much damage caused to the vessel itself by the fire. “No visual structural damages to No.4 cargo hold at this stage,’ he said adding that there were still about 16 containers remaining on board (ROB) on deck on top of No.4 hatch – two of which appeared to contain rice (25kg bags) and smoldering. “The plan is to discharge (these) ashore tomorrow and douse with water and de-stuff into skips – no immediate danger,” he said.
“There are also about 10 containers aft of accommodation (not at all related to fire) to discharge to accommodate replenishment of CO2-Room with 400 x 45kgs CO2 cylinders. The area is presently covered by these containers as it is situated aft of the accommodation and underdeck,” he said.
For continued maintenance of a safe working environment and to prevent any possible pollution of the seawater around the vessel, containment booms would stay deployed while overflows of contaminated water off the vessel would be sampled for analysis.
“All parties are satisfied with the progress of operation,” said Capt. Burgess.
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