NEWS from Fairplay: Vessel Fires in (1) Maersk Engine Room & (2) Bibby Cargo Holds from Ammonium Nitrate Fertiliser – August 2017

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Maersk Pembroke: it is understood that the fire, which began in an auxiliary engine, is under control. Credit: Hannes Van Rijn

The Maersk Line container ship Maersk Pembroke has been disabled by an engine room fire, which broke out while it was under way from the Belgian port of Antwerp to Montreal in Canada.

Maersk Line indicated that the fire was reported early on Tuesday morning when the Dutch-flagged, 2,902 teu vessel, which which operates on the company’s Canada Atlantic Express Service was 125 n miles southwest of the Irish coast.

It said that it understood that the fire, which began in an auxiliary engine, was under control, adding that all 22 crew members aboard the vessel were safe and that no environmental damage had been reported.

“We are working on a contingency plan to make the vessel operational again, simultaneously with an emergency towing plan,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday. “We are in contact with our customers to find the best solution for the handling of their cargo.”

The company told Fairplay this afternoon that the fire had been extinguished but declined to give details of the contingency plans under consideration.

Meanwhile, a Bibby Line Supramax bulk carrier, Cheshire, was reported to be under tow this morning, 54 n miles south of the island of El Hierro, the westernmost of the Canary Islands. This was 10 days after it first reported problems with its ammonium nitrate fertiliser cargo while under way from Norway to Thailand.

According to the Maritime Bulletin website, a suspected fire was reported aboard the vessel on 13 August and the crew were evacuated on 14 August after several explosions.

The 24 Russian, Ukrainian, and Filipino crew members had to be winched to safety by Spanish rescue service helicopters after the situation on board became too dangerous.

Bibby Line has since said that salvors had succeeded in getting a tow line to the vessel on Monday and that the vessel was heading towards Gran Canaria, where it was intended that it would take up position some 50 n miles southwest of the island.

One report said that the owner of the vessel’s cargo had sent four experts to Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, to advise on how to deal with it in its current state.

The company is being assisted to salvage the vessel by US-based Resolve Marine, which said that it had been close to the stricken vessel since 16 August but had experienced difficulty getting aboard because of adverse weather conditions and the heat and fumes coming from the vessel’s holds.

It indicated that the situation had improved on board the vessel, which was pictured at one point with smoke billowing spectacularly from its deck, after the process of decomposition of the fertiliser had been completed in several of its holds.

Maritime media relations specialist MTI Network, which is acting as spokesperson for Bibby Line, said this afternoon that the MV Cheshire’s cargo was continuing to react and that, as a result, it was still impossible to board the vessel.

Cargo combustion had begun in hold 4, spreading subsequently to holds 5 and 3. Since then, the combustion had ceased in holds 4 and 5 and was running down in hold 3 but was still in the early stages in holds 1 and 2.

MTI said that said that the vessel was on its way to a position defined by the Spanish authorities 40 nautical miles south of Gran Canaria, which it was expected to reach tomorrow evening if current progress is maintained.

The salvors hope to be able to board the vessel when it arrives there, if conditions permit, with the aim of cooling the cargo down. So far, efforts to cool the cargo have been carried out by the tugs accompanying the vessel with limited efficiency.

“If they can get on the ship, the cooling down will be much quicker,” MTI said. “because they can get to the hot spot and cool it down. Until they get on to the ship they can’t do that.”

The company said that it had no information regarding the condition of the MV Cheshire itself at this point.

“Until we can get on it and see what has actually happened I don’t think we are going to know that.

Contact: Andrew Spurrier

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