Box Ship Fire Leaves Question of Contaminated Water

Image courtesy Hamburg Police Department / Twitter

By MarEx 2016-09-13 20:46:51

The fire aboard the container ship CCNI Arauco was safely extinguished September 3, after 48 hours and multiple attempts – but the ship still remains in Hamburg harbor, and authorities are figuring out what to do with thousands of tons of contaminated firefighting water in her holds. 

In addition to the combustion residues in the water, firefighters pumped 12,000 gallons of firefighting foam through the ventilation system and into the Arauco's hold. Modern firefighting foams all contain perfluorocarbon surfactants; while manufacturers have made changes in recent years, these chemicals are in a family of compounds under scrutiny by regulators for the risk of persistent environmental contamination. Among other impacts, this has lead to multimillon-dollar cleanup costs for the U.S. Department of Defense, the leading user of older formulations of AFFF (aqueous film forming foam, more commonly known as "A-triple-F"). 

The 2015-built Arauco is set to go to Bremerhaven for repairs, but Bremerhaven lacks facilities for properly receiving the wastewater, authorities say. They have called for the water to be pumped off and treated locally before her departure. 

Separately, media in Hamburg have raised concerns that the difficulty of extinguishing the blaze on the Arauco reflects poorly on the preparedness of local emergency services – and suggests that the size of ever-growing container vessels may be changing the nature of a casualty in port. Hamburg's two fire boats are small relative to the size of modern commercial vessels and have been in service for four decades; the fire department's supplies of AFFF were inadequate to the task of filling one hold, and additional quantities had to be borrowed from aircraft manufacturer Airbus and from Tamoil's Holborn refinery (not uncommon, said fire department spokesman Torsten Wessely); and the men and firefighting ships available to fight the fire had to be augmented with reinforcements from nearby port cities, reports local outlet MOPO.