Update: APL Austria’s Fire Extinguished, Inspection Begins

The fire that raged for days on board the APL Austria docked at the port of Ngqurha near Port Elizabeth has finally been extinguished, according to the latest update from the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA).

“The good news is that the fire on board is completely extinguished and port operations continued as normal (with) two additional large container ships docking at the port today (Wednesday) where, for a while, no ships were allowed into the port while this other vessel was on fire,” said Captain Daron Burgess, SAMSA’s Technical Manager for the Southern Region.

According to Capt Burgess the mop up phase now ensues which involves removal of damaged containers and their content. The teams will also drain out approximately 30 000 cubic meters of water, ash and residue filling up to the No.4 cargo hatch of the vessel – a disposal that will be preceded by a scientific analysis of the water to determine its toxicity.

“The plan is that if the water contains no marine pollutants, then it will be transferred into ballast water tanks on board. However, if containing marine pollutants, we will have to re-assess the situation and most probably will have to discharge it ashore in approved receptacles and to be disposed of according to DEA (Department of Environmental Affairs) requirements,” said Capt Burgess.

Meanwhile, two fire experts had already begun inspecting the vessel to try and establish what caused the fire that broke out on Sunday afternoon while the APL Austria was sailing westward in the Indian Ocean alongside the South African coast towards the Cape Peninsula.

As disclosed, initial inspection indicated that there was not much damage caused to the vessel itself by the fire, with the No.4 cargo hold being visually structurally sound.

According to Burgess, there are still about 16 containers remaining on board the deck on top of No.4 hatch – two of which appeared to contain rice (25kg bags) and smouldering.

“The plan is to discharge (these) ashore tomorrow (Thursday) and douse with water and de-stuff into skips – no immediate danger,” he said.

SAMSA said that containment booms would stay deployed around the vessel to prevent any possible pollution of the seawater around the vessel, while overflows of contaminated water off the vessel would be sampled for analysis.

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