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Photo of the burning ship by the Swedish Coast Guard
13 Dec 2021

Burning ship towed to the Port of Gothenburg - despite concerns of hazardous leaks and possible explosions

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Due to difficult fire fighting conditions at sea, the burning cargo ship outside Gothenburg has been towed to the port of Gothenburg over the weekend. The Port of Gothenburg was not in agreement with this decision, due to the risk of explosions and hazardous leaks.  

The decision was made on Thursday evening despite the fact that the Port of Gothenburg' did not consider it to be the best alternative.

The coast guard has had difficulties managing firefighting efforts at sea, due to heavy winds and freezing temperatures, which caused extinguishing water to freeze and made water cannons malfunction.  

The cargo ship Almirante Storni has been burning since the first weekend in December, and has been anchored near the island of Vinga in the Gothenburg archipelago.

Until the ship was towed to land, all 17 crew members remained on the ship, assisted by especially trained firefighters ready to evacuate if the fire spread further into the living quarters of the ship.

While at sea, the authorities have conducted interrogations with the crew members about possible criminal negligence on behalf of either the crew or the owners. Allegedly several safety problems associated with the ship have been reported during a recent inspection in the UK. 

 

Read more about this ship fire in an earlier article on CTIF.org

 

Risks involved no matter what  you do: Letting it burn at sea could sink it - towing it could risk an explosion in the port 

In order to be able to extinguish the fire and access the smouldering fires inside the cargo, the Coast Guard´s  assessment is that the timber wood must be lifted off the ship in order to get access to the seat of the fire. Failure to extinguish completely could lead to the fire spreading to other parts of the ship, possibly also to explosions and hazardous materials leaking out from the ship. 

According to Jonas Grevstad, head of the Gothenburg Coast Guard, there are powerful ember fires burning inside the cargo load, and these could start behaving erratically, perhaps even sink the ship if they are allowed to continue. He therefore believes that it would be best for the ship to be moved to a quay in the port of Gothenburg so that the cargo load can be safely removed.

Elvir Dzanic, CEO of the Port of Gothenburg, does not agree:

"Our assessment is that it is not the best alternative, it increases the risk of further damage and in the worst case explosions of dangerous goods", he said to Swedish Television (SVT.se)

Dzanic believes that there are other ports that are better suited, such as Varberg or Uddevalla.

The Coast Guard does not agree with this assessment, and believes towing the ship further up the coast would only increase the risk of the fire spreading inside the cargo load and possibly sinking the ship at sea.

It has previously been determined that if the cargo ship sinks, there would be an environmental disaster in the area.

Apart from lumber, there is also other types of cargo on the ship, some if it hazardous. Therefor, draining the ship and letting it burn out at sea is not an option, according to the Coast Guard: 

"Even if we drain the oil that is in the ship, there will still be large amounts left, and there will be a big environmental impact if it should sink".

 

Coast Guard operations handed to over local fire services at port

The government environmental rescue effort at sea is now being transferred to a municipal rescue effort at port. The rescue service will coordinate its efforts with the planned operation on land. The rescue service also has to have a plan in place  should the fire spread further in the ship.

"It is a complicated operation to plan because we do not really know the conditions", said Per Nyqvist, on-duty rescue chief of the Greater Gothenburg Rescue Service.

When the ship is moored at the quay, the load must be unloaded from the ship, in order to access the seat of the fire in a more efficient way.

During transport, the Coast Guard will continue to spray water over the timber cargo on board.

"The worst case scenario is  that the fire somehow spreads. But our assessment and risk analyzes say that it is a rather unlikely development", says Fredrik Tyrén at the Coast Guard.

 

The bulk carrier has been burning for over a week

"We have many civilian tug bats that have been involved from the beginning and from their perspective this is not a complicated operation. What is complicated is that we have a fire on board that must be cooled while the ship is being towed", says Jonas Grevstad to SVT.se.

At the Port of Gothenburg, personnel were preparing to receive the ship at berth 615 , which has sufficient depth to receive Almirante Storni, which protrudes ten meters below the water surface,.

"It is not desirable to get a burning ship into a port, on the contrary, you want to get rid of it. But under the circumstances, we will do everything we can", says Erik Waller, Deputy Harbor Master of the Port of Gothenburg. 
 

 

Thermal image of the burning ship provided by the Swedish Coast Guard