Crews working to extinguish a fire that’s been burning for four days aboard a large container ship off Canada’s east coast are facing some big challenges, an expert in offshore safety says.
Faisal Khan, an engineering professor at Memorial University, made the observation Monday (Jan. 7) after a second offshore support vessel arrived to help fight a cargo fire aboard the 320-metre Yantian Express, which first reported the blaze on Thursday (Jan. 3).
Several containers on the Halifax-bound ship were still burning by Monday afternoon.
While the ship’s crew may have been trained to deal with fires in the engine room and living quarters, burning cargo is another matter, said Khan, the Canada Research Chair in Offshore Safety and Risk Engineering at the St. John’s, N.L., university.
Fires fuelled by the polymers in plastic goods, for example, can produce toxic fumes that could prove deadly.
“If it’s carrying plastic toys, that could pose a significant risk in terms of the byproducts caused by the fire,” he said in an interview.
Tim Seifert, a spokesman for the international shipping company Hapag-Lloyd, said Monday “the focus is on containing the fire.”
Seifert confirmed in an email that the 95-metre support ship Maersk Mobiliser, based in Newfoundland, had reached the container ship about 1,500 kilometres east of Halifax.
He said the Maersk Mobiliser had joined the 71-metre Smit Nicobar, an offshore support ship from Belgium that arrived on Friday night.
The Smit Nicobar is equipped with fixed fire monitors — a type of water cannon that can pump large volumes of water to extinguish fires.
All 23 crew members from the Yantian Express have been moved onto the Smit Nicobar.
There were no reports of injuries, and the extent of damage to the larger vessel remains unclear.
Read more on Canadian Occupational Safety.