The disastrous fire that broke out in containers aboard Hapag-Lloyd’s 7,236-teu vessel Yantian Express in January 2019 was most likely caused by self-ignition in a cargo of coconut charcoal that had been mis-declared as coconut pellets, according to an in-depth report by the German Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (Bundesstelle für Seeunfalluntersuchung – BSU). It says that this was the only cargo in the vicinity of the seat of the fire that had the potential to self-ignite, although the investigation was made difficult by the large number of other containers that had been affected by the fire, making a forensic examination of the casualty essential.
Yantian Express had begun a westbound voyage in Vung Tau, Vietnam on 10 December 2018, calling at Singapore and Colombo before a long leg to Halifax, Nova Scotia, with arrival scheduled for 4 January 2019. In the early hours of 2 January, with the weather worsening, the officer on watch spotted flames well forward and advised the master, who mustered the crew.
Other nearby vessels arrived on scene in case the crew needed to abandon ship, until salvage tugs began to arrive the next day. The crew continued to fight the fire, despite the weather deteriorating further, deploying all means at their disposal, while the fire was seen spreading to other containers. In the evening of 5 January an explosion was heard, identified as coming from a container with nitrocellulose, and plans were made to abandon ship. Half the complement took up the invitation. The following day all remaining crew were evacuated, all very exhausted. On 9 January the captain and four other crew returned to the ship to help with the response. It was determined that the fire was largely under control at that point and the casualty was towed to Halifax, arriving on 13 January, where firefighting efforts continued until 26 January.
THE FINGER POINTS
BSU interviewed the five crew members who returned to the ship, all but one of whom was highly experienced, and examined the voyage data recorder. BSU surveyors also examined the remains of all the containers that had been near the seat of the fire once other boxes had been unloaded. Most of the inspected containers held clothing, tyres, furniture or other goods; although most were completely burnt out, surveyors found enough evidence to confirm the descriptions on the manifest.
However, one container said to be carrying coconut pellets had remnants of briquette-shaped pieces, identified as coconut charcoal, otherwise known as ‘pyrochar’. Coconut pellets are produced by grinding coconut shells and compacting the material into small sticks, to be used as fuel for furnaces. Pyrochar is produced by pyrolysis of coconut shells and has properties similar to wood-based charcoal; BSU says the cube-shaped pyrochar found in the container was most likely to be used as fuel for shisha pipes.
BSU could not elicit any information from the forwarder or consignee of the cargo, which had been loaded in Vietnam. BSU estimates that the total weight of pyrochar in the 40-foot box was 22,150 kg, packed in 10-kg cardboard boxes. It tested some of the material and concluded that it did not meet the classification of a self-igniting substance according to the N.4 test. However, the tests also indicated that, when packed in large quantities, the self-ignition temperature could be as low as 50˚C.
BSU notes that the transport of animal- or vegetable-based charcoal usually requires a test to prove that the material does not meet the criteria for classification as a Division 4.2 dangerous good, as per the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. It must be established that the product’s tendency to self-heat is only limited. Tests must be carried out by an accredited laboratory. The manufacturer must also certify that the product has undergone a cooling phase following production to ensure safety during transportation. A certificate describing the moisture content, the proportion of bound carbon, the proportion of volatile matter and the ash content must accompany the shipment. BSU says none of these documents accompanied the pyrochar during transport.
BSU assumes that the product’s declaration as coconut pellets was incorrect and says: “That this was intentional because it made it possible to avoid compliance with the tests and conditions mentioned cannot be ruled out.”
BSU’s report makes a number of other observations on the vessel’s fire and safety plan, which did not match the arrangement of firefighting systems or the volume of compressed air available for breathing apparatus. While this did not influence the course of this particular casualty, BSU says it could be important in another case and it has recommended that Hapag-Lloyd review its shipboard plans.
BSU’s investigators ruled it unlikely that the fire was caused by a carelessly discarded cigarette or by the spontaneous combustion of a cargo with impurities. On the other hand, the long duration of the voyage makes it more likely that a gradual self-heating of a cargo such as pyrochar could have caused the outbreak, although it admits that no direct evidence of that can be found.[post_title] => Container fire: Put that in your pipe [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => container-fire-put-that-in-your-pipe [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2020-02-11 10:11:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2020-02-11 10:11:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.hcblive.com/?p=16372 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw )