Yantian Express fire likely caused by coconut charcoal official report identifies

Yantian Express - Photo credit: Smit Nicobar
Yantian Express – Photo credit: Smit Nicobar

The Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) has published its investigation report about the causes of the fire in the area of the deck cargo on board the container ship Yantian Express, identifying coconut charcoal as the likely cause of the fire.

It was during the early morning hours of 3 January 2019 that fire broke out in the deck cargo in the area of cargo hold 2 on board the German flagged container ship Yantian Express. The ship was in the North Atlantic, due to reach Halifax, Canadathe following day.

Despite the action taken by the Smit Nicobar, the fire spread further into the deck area of cargo hold 1. Due to the overall deteriorating situation the Yantian Express’s crew left the ship and transferred to a tug.

On 7 January 2019, the Maersk Mobiliser reached the scene and took over the firefighting operations. Given that the extent onboard the burning ship seemed safer than on 9 January 2019, five crewmembers returned to the vessel voluntarily.

Together with the crew, the salvage master started his work on the damaged ship.

On 30 January 2019, tug and tow reached the anchorage of the port of refuge in Freeport, Bahamas. Several days later, the ship was allowed to sail into the port. On 19 February 2019, the unloading the containers in the area of cargo holds 1 and 2 started.

On 25 January 2019, the shipping company declared the general average in connection with the fire on board the vessel. The Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation started its investigation on board after the ship had arrived.

In doing so, areas on the ship crucial for the development of the fire and the firefighting operations were inspected. Unloading of the containers of this area was observed. However, the BSU investigation could not clarify the cause of the fire with total certainty, especially due to the very long duration of the fire and the intensive use of firefighting water which changed the origin of the fire strongly. However by procedure of exclusion, three containers which could possibly have caused the fire, were identified.

The BSU stresses that one of the containers was laden with coconut charcoal, which had been erroneously declared as coconut pellets.

Read the full 73 page pdf report

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