Two container ship fires were extinguished by salvors, one off Sri Lanka and the other in Malaysia, in Q2 2021
These high-profile maritime accidents highlight the worrying trend of fires engulfing box ships in Asia.
One of the most environmentally damaging and dangerous fires was on container vessel X-Press Pearl at anchor off Colombo, Sri Lanka. Initially, smoke was seen coming from one of the forward cargo holds, before this developed into an open fire which local authorities tried to extinguish.
Smit Salvage was contracted by the shipowner to provide immediate assistance, additional fire-fighting capacity was quickly engaged and a salvage team and equipment were mobilised.
At the time, Smit described the situation on site as “very dynamic and unpredictable” which was also demonstrated by an unforeseen and heavy explosion of cargo in the aft part of the vessel. With two crew injured, this led to the immediate evacuation of the crew and salvage team at night under difficult conditions.
With unfavourable weather and sea conditions, fire-fighting efforts were hampered and the fire spread, engulfing the entire vessel. After more than a week, the fire was under control and the salvage team reboarded the casualty to assess the situation.
Unfortunately, its condition was very poor and X-Press Pearl sank soon after. Efforts to minimise pollution emanating from the vessel are continuing.
The International Salvage Union said this incident again raised the question of places of refuge, for it was reported permission had previously been denied at ports in the Middle East for the vessel to unload containers that were leaking chemicals.
In the same period, Smit also assisted container vessel Interasia Catalyst when it reported containers on fire while at anchorage in Port Klang, Malaysia. A team and crane barge were mobilised and the fire-affected containers were offloaded onto barges and brought ashore for processing and disposal.
This enabled the hatches to be lifted off to further inspect the cargo holds. Subsequently, the unaffected offloaded containers were lifted back on board, allowing the vessel to resume its voyage.
In May, Smit was contracted to assist bulk carrier Denali as it was caught up in typhoon Tauktae off the east coast of India. This ship was anchored awaiting repairs when the force of the typhoon dragged it towards shallow waters, which placed the vessel in an exposed and delicate position.
Smit was responsible for relocating Denali to a safe anchorage for planned repairs. With poor weather approaching, a firm deadline was imposed by authorities to complete this relocation.
A salvage team and powerful tugs were deployed. Denali was pulled away from the position and successfully towed by anchor handling tug Boka Alphine, with 204 tonnes of bollard pull, to a safe anchorage for repairs.
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