Fire damaged Liberian flagged cargo vessel, APL Austria at Ngqurha, Port Elizabeth still being examined to determine cause of fire: SAMSA

Pretoria: 08 March 2017

Investigations into the cause of the fire that broke out on board a Liberian cargo vessel, the APL Austria, while sailing off the Indian Ocean along South Africa a few weeks ago continue in Port Elizabeth, with authorities indicating that it may be a while before they find answers.

According to the Captain Daron Burgess, a Principal Officer at the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) southern region office in Port Elizabeth, the suspected cause of the fire currently is possibly a chemical known as a “calcium hypochlorite” that was found stowed under deck in No.4 cargo hold.

Wikipedia describes calcium hypochlorite as a chemical “commonly used to sanitize public swimming pools and disinfect drinking water. Calcium hypochlorite is also used in kitchens to disinfect surfaces and equipment. Other common uses include bathroom cleansers, household disinfectant sprays, algaecides, herbicides, and laundry detergents.”

Apparently according to Capt. Burgess, the presence of the chemical on board the vessel was somewhat mysterious as the vessel’s crew was “unaware of it as it was not declared as such.” Capt. Burgess stressed in statement on Tuesday however that: “The final report by fire experts has not been released yet and so we cannot confirm the cause.”

The APL Austria – a 72 000 ton, 280m wide cargo vessel – had been some 30 nautical miles south west of Jeffreys Bay – about 50-70 kilometers west of Port Elizabeth – when it reported a fire on board at about 5pm on Sunday, 12 February 2017. Shortly thereafter with rescue operations scrambled, it was then redirected overnight back to Port Elizabeth and eventually to its current docking location at the port of Ngqurha following to which its crew was evacuated while firefighters battled the blaze

A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.
A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.

On Tuesday this week, reporting on the continuing mop up operation on board the vessel Capt. Burgess said: “All damaged containers have been discharged from the vessel and the No.4 cargo hold is now empty and being mopped up. All empty CO2 cylinders (45kg x 444)  have been replenished and placed back on board. ”

He said high pressure hose cleaning began on Tuesday and was expected to be completed on Wednesday afternoon after which  investigators hoped to have a full view of the damage to the vessel.

According to Capt. Burgess repairs to damage caused by  the fire on board the vessel was unlikely to be conducted at the Ngqurha port. “The vessel has had SA repair companies attend to inspect damage and to give quotes for seen damage to ship and hatch covers.” He said it was likely the vessel might set sail again to elsewhere sometime next week.

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Fire-ravaged Liberian flagged cargo vessel at port of Ngqurha in mop up phase: SAMSA

Pretoria: 16 February 2017

Liberia flagged cargo vessel, APL Austria resting uneasily at the port of Ngqrurha near Port Elizabeth yesterday as a mop up phase began after rescue operations succeeded in putting out a raging fire on board the vessel since Sunday afternoon.
Liberia flagged cargo vessel, APL Austria resting uneasily at the port of Ngqurha near Port Elizabeth yesterday as a mop up phase began after rescue operations succeeded in putting out a raging fire on board the vessel since Sunday afternoon.

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.

Some of the charred remains of containers being removed from the fire ravaged cargo vessel APL Austria docked at the port of Ngqura

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.

A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.
A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.

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.

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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.

Centre aft pontoon of No.4 cargo hatch which opened up after an explosion on board. An investigation into the cause of the fire is now formally underway according to SAMSA

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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Fire on cargo vessel at Port of Ngqurha under control: SAMSA

Pretoria: 15 February 2017

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Work to salvage the last batch of about 32 containers in hatch No4 of the fire ravaged Liberian flagged cargo vessel currently docked at the port of Ngqurha was due to begin on Wednesday morning, on condition that the fire in the hold had been successfully extinguished, the South African Maritime Authority (SAMSA) reported on Tuesday night.

img_6445According to SAMSA, fires in the lower hold No4 of the APL Austria vessel had already been extinguished except for two containers in the cargo holding area that had been packed with candles and which had since melted into wax.

This was despite the No4 cargo hold having filled with water equivalent the height of four containers as result of firefighting efforts that began on board the vessel on Sunday afternoon on the eastern ocean of South Africa, some 30 nautical miles south west of country’s world reknowned surfing mecca, Jeffrey’s Bay.

At the time, according to SAMSA, the 280 metres wide and 72 000 ton cargo carrier was headed west towards the Cape Peninsula.

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After reporting the blaze on board, SAMSA’s Maritime Rescue Co-ordinating Centre (MRCC) based in Cape Town, redirected the vessel back to the port of Port Elizabeth and eventually its current anchor alongside the port of Ngqurha, some 30 kilometres east of Nelson Mandela Bay, where rescue operations continued including the safe evacuation of its entire crew.

On Tuesday night SAMSA reported that as many as 281 containers had been removed from the vessel and that to maintain ongoing stability of the situation, containers forward and aft of No.4 cargo hold on deck were also being discharged to create working space and a fire-break on deck, while contents of burnt damaged containers which were discharged were being de-stuffed into skips ashore.

Burned damaged containers would be moved off site as from Wednesday, said SAMSA. Meanwhile, firefighting services remained on site including TNPA tugs are boundary cooling and on standby.

 

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Blaze on board Liberian flagged vessel in Port Elizabeth contained: Monitoring continues

Pretoria: 14 February 2017

The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of
The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of

A fire that broke out on a giant Liberian flagged container vessel, the APL Austria while sailing west off the eastern ocean of South Africa on Sunday has been contained, but its situation is still being closely monitored, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) reported on Tuesday.

The 71 867 tons, 280 meter-wide container carrier on which fire broke out in one of its cargo holds on Sunday afternoon while sailing 30 nautical miles south-west of Cape St Francis – some 50-70 kilometers west of the city of Port Elizabeth – had to be diverted back to the port of Ngqurha on Sunday night in order for rescue operations including firefighting to be conducted.

With the crew evacuated – an operation overseen by the SAMSA Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) based in Cape Town, throughout Sunday night, Monday and early Tuesday, firefighters both on board and outside the vessel, inclusive of tugs from the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) battled the fire, while efforts were made to remove some of the cargo on board to safety.

A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.
A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.

On Tuesday afternoon, SAMSA Centre for Shipping Executive Head, Captain Nigel Campbell reported that the battle against the blaze was being won progressively.

“It appears that the fire in the hold has been extinguished but the space has not been deemed safe to enter as yet. There are still smouldering containers on deck which are being fought by the fire brigade, a harbour tug is providing boundary cooling. Containers with hazardous cargo are being removed from the area around the fire,” said Captain Campbell.

He added that: “The Joint Operations Committee sits shortly to monitor progress against the plan.”

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Firefighters battle blaze on board Liberian flagged vessel in Port Elizabeth!

The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of
The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of shipspotting.com)

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.

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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.

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