Divers Search Damaged Tanker for Missing Crewmembers

Image courtesy Hong Kong Fire Services Department

Published Jan 11, 2019 5:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

Emergency response teams are still searching for two crewmembers from the product tanker Aulac Fortune, which caught fire and exploded off Hong Kong on January 8.

Dive crews are searching the Fortune's number four cargo tank, which was one of three ripped open by the blast. The missing men are believed to have been working on the main deck above the tank at the time of the explosion. 

The damaged tanks are filled with up to about 20 feet of water and petroleum, according to the department. "Due to the impact of oil pollution, there is zero visibility at the bottom of the holds," the agency said in a statement. 

All images courtesy Hong Kong Fire Services Department

At a press conference Friday, emergency response officials described a hazardous search environment. The damaged tanks are filled with jagged wreckage, and wind, currents and wave action lead to movement of metal fragments within the spaces. Due to the extensive damage and the vessel's 30-degree list, the tanks are not easily accessible from deck, and the Hong Kong Fire Services Department has assigned a high-angle rescue team to rig lines and lower divers into each compartment.

The Vietnamese product tanker Aulac Fortune arrived off Lamma Island, Hong Kong on Tuesday morning for a bunkering stop. She exploded at 1130 hours, and residents reported that the blast was forceful enough to rattle windows on several nearby islands.  

The crew abandoned ship into the water, and first responders rescued 23 survivors, including four injured crewmembers who have been hospitalized. One crewmember has been confirmed dead, and an additional two remain missing.