Fertilizer Fire Leaves Bulker Adrift

The Cheshire in an undated file image (Bibby Line)

By The Maritime Executive 2017-08-16 20:03:07

Over the weekend, a chemical fire broke out in one cargo hold of the bulker Cheshire at a position off the Canary Islands. The Cheshire is loaded with ammonium nitrate-based fertilizer, and her operator said that temperatures in the hold rose enough to damage the hatch cover. 

On Monday, winds on scene were too light to carry the fumes from the fire away from the wheelhouse, according to the Cheshire’s operator. As this created a hazardous situation for the vessel’s 24 crewmembers, the Spanish coast guard evacuated them by helicopter and brought them safely to shore. All are reported to be in good health. 

Ammonium nitrate is used as a fertilizer, and in a mixture with fuel oil it forms a common industrial explosive. In large, contained quantities, it may also act as an explosive on its own; the detonation of 800 tonnes of ammonium nitrate was a main contributor to the Tianjin disaster of 2015. 

As of Wednesday, the Cheshire was drifting about 50 nm south of the Canary Islands. Salvors have been contracted to cool the cargo and bring the incident under control, and were expected to arrive on scene with the tug Red Sea Fos at about 1430 hours UTC on Wednesday.