Ship Fire at Port Kembla Extinguished

Image courtesy Fire and Rescue NSW

By The Maritime Executive 2018-06-21 12:59:49

Three days after a fire started within the hold of the bulker Iron Chieftain, firefighters at Port Kembla, Australia have had a breakthrough in bringing the blaze under control. 

On Monday, a conveyor belt aboard the self-unloading bulker caught fire, and the blaze soon spread to other conveyors within the ship's hold. The ship was carrying dolomite, a crushed rock product that is not flammable, and initial reports of a cargo fire were not accurate: the conveyor belts and rubber linings in the Chieftain's cargo-handling system were on fire, not her cargo. 

"Dolomite doesn't really burn. It hasn't been on fire, it's been conveyor belts and rubber linings and other parts of the ship," said Fire and Rescue New South Wales official Wayne Phillips in a press conference Thursday. "This has proved to be a very difficult fire for firefighters to get on top of. We've had up to 100 firefighters here at a time."

According to Phillips' agency, an effort last night to blanket the hold with firefighting foam was successful. There are no signs of smoke from the ship and temperature levels are dropping, indicating the fire may have been extinguished. Firefighters are currently monitoring hot spots and ensuring that extinguishment is complete. Fire and Rescue NSW is now working with the harbormaster and the shipowner to formulate a salvage and overhaul plan.

The vessel's stability is in good shape, Phillips said, and experts were consulted to ensure that the extra weight of firefighting water in her holds did not put her at risk. The recent, successful effort involved foam, which does not add significant weight when applied. "The ship's very secure, there's no threat to the environment, we've had no leakage into the harbor, and the community . . . is very safe," Phillips said.  

The deckhouse suffered the most in the fire, but the full extent of the damage is not yet known. Phillips indicated that the interior of the ship is still dangerous to access, and he does not intend to send firefighters into internal compartments to investigate until the fire is fully eliminated.