Icebreaker tows cargo ship to safety after fire off Newfoundland

Thorco Crown

A Canadian light icebreaker towed a cargo ship to safety after an engine room fire disabled it, leaving the vessel adrift in rough seas off Port aux Basques, Newfoundland.

The 475-foot Thorco Crown was en route from Argentia, Newfoundland, to Montreal when the fire started at 0555 on Feb. 7. The ship’s built-in fire suppression system put out the flames, but not before engine room components were damaged. The ship was carrying only ballast at the time.

The fire disabled the engine, leaving the vessel adrift in rough seas about 20 miles off the southwest coast of Newfoundland. Canadian authorities estimated winds reached 35 knots, with seas reaching more than 15 feet.

The Canadian Coast Guard ship Sir William Alexander, a light icebreaker and buoy tender, reached Thorco Crown about six hours after the fire as the ship drifted toward shore. A tugboat summoned to bring Thorco Crown into port struggled to secure a tow, and after three attempts the Coast Guard ship intervened.

“The captain and crew of CCGS Sir William Alexander connected a towline to M/V Thorco Crown and towed the vessel and its crew to safer waters,” Jody Thomas, Canadian Coast Guard commissioner, said in a prepared statement. “Early on Feb. 9, the private tug took over the tow and later secured the vessel alongside in Sydney, Nova Scotia.”

German shipper MC-Schiffahrt, which owns and operates Thorco Crown, said a fuel line parted while the ship sailed through seas reaching 18 feet.

“The vessel was rolling due to the extreme weather/sea conditions and some fuel oil, spraying out of a broken manometer line of the booster unit, initiated a fire on top of the main engine,” the company said in a written statement. “The vessel’s engine room was evacuated (and) sealed, and the vessel’s CO2 system was activated. The fire was very soon extinguished.”

MC-Schiffahrt’s statement about the fire aligns with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s investigation into the incident. Pierre Murray, a manager with the TSB, said the fire likely began after fuel sprayed onto the engine.

Thirteen crewmembers were aboard Thorco Crown when the fire occurred. There were no injuries, and MC-Schiffahrt said the crew was never in danger. The 13-year-old ship is registered in Antigua and Barbuda.

The 5,000-hp z-drive tugboat Svitzer Bedford towed the ship to Sydney. The tug is operated by Svitzer Canada of Halifax, Nova Scotia. Svitzer referred questions about the incident to Ardent, which oversaw the recovery. An Ardent spokesman declined to comment, citing client confidentiality.

Engine components and wires that snake through the engine room to other parts of the ship were damaged during the fire, Murray said. The estimated cost of the repairs was not available.

“It is supposed to be 30 days to repair,” he said, adding that the work took place in Sydney. “Any fire in the engine room makes a big mess.”

By Professional Mariner Staff