Fire in scrap metal barge contained off Delaware coast

Local fireboat crews helped extinguish a fire in the barge CMT Y NOT 6 in Delaware Bay. The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Local fireboat crews helped extinguish a fire in the barge CMT Y NOT 6 in Delaware Bay. The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Local fireboat crews helped extinguish a fire in the barge CMT Y NOT 6 in Delaware Bay. The cause of the fire is not yet known.

A barge containing scrap metal caught fire and burned in Delaware Bay for more than a day. Two weeks later, the vessel was towed to its original destination in Camden, N.J.

Crewmembers aboard the 3,200-hp tugboat Daisy Mae reported a fire on the barge they were guiding, CMT Y NOT 6, at about 0100 on May 23. The vessels were underway in the Delaware Bay Shipping Channel near the Miah Maull Lighthouse at the time. 

Delaware-based volunteer firefighters led the initial firefighting response. They were subsequently supported by Delaware Bay Launch Service, Northstar Marine and the New York Fire Department (FDNY) fireboat The Bravest with greater pumping capacity. 

The fire appeared to start aft on CMT Y NOT 6, which was loaded with scrap metal and old household appliances. Authorities are investigating the incident but have not released the cause. 

The Bowers Fire Company of Bowers, Del., was among the first local agencies dispatched to fight the fire. While preparing to get underway from shore, Chief Aaron Warren saw a “very noticeable glow” from the burning barge almost 9 miles offshore. 

“Crews from the initial marine response units arrived and found heavy fire coming from cargo load which was determined to be scrap metal,” the Bowers Fire Company said in a Facebook post. “At this point, Chief Warren requested additional fireboats as well as the Kent County mobile command post to set up at Port Mahon.”

Delaware Bay Launch Service of nearby Milford, Del., responded a short time later at Warren’s request. Foam trailers were loaded onto the Delaware Launch vessels and deployed against the fire. The foam worked but could not be pumped high enough to reach the top of the fire, the Bowers department said in the Facebook post. Multiple phone messages left with the department were not retured. 

Warren sought additional support from fireboats throughout the region. Many local Delaware departments heeded the call, but some of the larger fireboats from big cities were either not in service or not available. The FDNY sent The Bravest, which arrived late in the day on May 23. 

The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a 29-foot response boat and worked with the local agencies to coordinate the firefighting response. At one point at least six local fireboats assisted with the firefighting effort. 

Salvage personnel from Northstar Marine of Clermont, N.J., responded on the 185-foot Northstar Independence. The vessel was outfitted with equipment shared by Resolve Marine, including a 5,000-gpm pump, according to Phil Risko, Northstar’s president and CEO. The Delaware Bay Launch vessel had a similarly capable pump. 

“Once the Launch vessel and the vessel from Northstar started flowing onto the fire, they were able to substantially knock the fire down,” Bowers Fire officials said. 

Concerns arose during night about the barge’s stability. Molten metal and plastic blocked the scuppers, preventing water from escaping the barge. Hatch covers also were damaged by the fire, allowing some water inside the vessel’s hull, Risko said. Daisy Mae towed the barge into shallower water near the East Point Lighthouse, about 4 miles off New Jersey, at about 0200 on May 24. 

The fire was mostly out by 0800 but smoldered for much of the day. Remaining fire crews departed at about 1700 following a final briefing at the command post.  

Northstar anchored the barge in Maurice River Cove, near Port Norris, N.J. Over the next 10 days, various surveys and stability tests were conducted to gauge whether the barge could be transported safely to Camden, N.J. Some of its cargo was transferred to another barge to offset firefighting water still inside the hull.

Authorities made the decision not to dewater the vessel until it reached port in Camden, Risko said. There, water inside the hull could be treated and removed in a way that prevented environmental damage. The barge reached Camden on June 5 under tow by a McAllister Towing tug. 

Authorities said there was no pollution during the response. None of the firefighters or salvage crews reported any injuries.

“It’s not very common to have a fire of this size and nature in a region where you might be able to respond to it,” Risko said. “Knowing that the response came from many different departments, many that have never worked together before with the Coast Guard trying to coordinate, I think it went as well as it could.”

Daisy Mae is part of the Coeymans Marine Towing fleet, based near Albany, N.Y. The company did not respond to an inquiry from Professional Mariner.