Container Fire Containing Toxic Phosphorus Causes Antwerp Port Evacuations

Antwerp container terminal
Operations were suspended and vessels evacuated in Antwerp due to a container fire with toxic phosphorus (MPET file photo)

Published Jun 24, 2024 1:54 PM by The Maritime Executive


A container fire in the Port of Antwerp prompted evacuations and a suspension of operations in sections of the container terminals overnight as emergency services worked to neutralize the danger. Operations we stopped for 12 hours with vessels evacuated as a precaution.

The Waasland fire brigade received reports of the container fire at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday night in the Beveren area which includes the Deurganckdok, one of the primary container handling areas of the port. The container burning was determined to contain yellow phosphorus. A commonly used chemical in fertilizer and other industrial applications, it is extremely toxic. Exposed to air it is flammable and inhaled it causes burning and in small amounts, it can be deadly to humans.

The MPET terminal used by MSC containerships and the DP World facility were both evacuated as a precaution. A ship moored in the port was also evacuated and all vessel traffic at Deurganckdok was also temporarily halted.

The fire service reported it was working with the chemical company BASF and the port. After approximately an hour, they were able to reduce the perimeter but continued to work to secure the container. As such, operations at MPET and Deurganckdok remained suspended. 

As of 0730 Monday morning, the fire service was reporting that the container had been moved to a “safe location.” The port said that they were doing everything possible to restart all activities as quickly as possible.

It was the second incident this month to interrupt operations at the container terminals in the Port of Antwerp. On June 6, port officials detected oil in the water that they determined was coming from a bunkering operation at the container terminal. A survey showed 20 ships, both sea vessels and barges, were polluted in Deurganckdock. Oil was also detected in the fairway and on the quay walls. 

Contaminated ships were prevented from leaving the port until they had been cleaned and the fairway also needed to be cleaned. Operations at one of the port’s locks were also suspended. Some ships were able to be cleaned quickly and proceed but operations continued to be impacted until June 18 when the Port of Antwerp reported that the cleanup operation had been completed.