Oceangoing container barge burns for two days near the Bahamas

A container barge caught fire and burned out of control for two days northeast of the Bahamas.

The blaze destroyed multiple cargo containers and damaged portions of the 730-foot triple-deck barge Miami. The 127-foot tugboat Patriarch was not damaged in the fire and its seven crewmembers were not hurt.

The fire began at about 1020 on March 6 and was officially under control at about 1000 on March 8, according to Crowley Maritime Corp., which owns both vessels. Company spokesman Mark Miller said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

“Crowley’s forensic inspector with the local fire inspector have been working together to investigate the incident and determine the cause of the fire,” Miller said in a statement about the accident.

The U.S. Coast Guard, which sent the 154-foot cutter Robert Yered and an HC-144A Ocean Sentry plane to monitor the barge fire, is investigating. Mark Barney, a spokesman from Sector Miami, declined to comment on possible causes.

Cargo containers were damaged in a fire aboard the ro-ro barge Miami near the Bahamas. Below, a response boat sprays water onto the vessel.

Photos courtesy U.S. Coast Guard

The tug and barge were two days into a six-day voyage from Jacksonville, Fla., to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when the fire began. Three firefighting tugboats were sent from Freeport, Bahamas, to fight the fire. The first tugboat arrived at about 0230 on March 7.

“The firefighting tugs responded initially trying to establish a control barrier to prevent further cargo damage,” Miller said. “The fire was declared under control by 8 March at 1000, approximately 48 hours after first discovery.”

The unmanned ro-ro barge was carrying vehicles and various containerized cargo, including food, beverages and department store items, according to Crowley. It’s not clear what type of cargo was loaded into the area where the fire started.

The Coast Guard, spill and hazmat response firm Witt-O’Brien, Titan Salvage, Bahamas Defense Agency and port officials in Nassau were among those notified of the fire. Titan Salvage, a Crowley subsidiary, coordinated the company’s response.

Once firefighting operations ended, Miami and Patriarch were escorted to the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, and they arrived on March 9. Local police and fire officials surveyed the damage and Crowley made arrangements to remove the damaged containers.

“While the deck remained structurally sound, some distortion of deck plate and under deck support structure was observed,” Miller said of the damaged barge.

It’s not clear if Bahamas authorities are investigating the accident. The island nation’s Ministry of Transport and Aviation said in a March 9 news release that it was “continuing to monitor the situation to ensure that any additional follow-up action required is taken.”

E-mail messages to the Ministry of Transport and Aviation seeking additional information on the incident were not returned.

Assistant Superintendent Floyd Bastian, a fire inspector with the Royal Bahamas Police Force, surveyed the damaged barge in Freeport. He declined to comment on a cause.

Patriarch and Miami continued their voyage to San Juan after the damaged cargo containers were removed on March 16. From there, the barge was headed to a shipyard for permanent repairs.

By Professional Mariner Staff