Welding in cargo hold sets fire in containership

Heat from a welding torch being used for repairs inside the main cargo hold of Ara J caused an explosion and fire aboard the 485-foot containership as it lay docked in Jacksonville, Fla., according to a U.S. Coast Guard investigator.

A welder was standing on a container that held Styrofoam packaging material when the container exploded at about 1450 on Jan. 21, said Lt. Kevin Ivey, senior investigating officer of the Marine Safety Office Jacksonville. The welder was thrown off the container by the blast and landed on another, breaking his ankle. He was the only person injured.

The welding was taking place roughly 20 to 30 feet below deck. The welder was working on the frame of the cargo hold when the contents of the container became hot and exploded, Ivey said.

After hearing the explosion, the foreman of the contracted welding company ran down into the cargo hold to help get his coworker out. Both men became trapped with no way of exiting without passing through flames and smoke. The ship’s crew used the vessel’s crane to pull the men safely out of the area, Ivey said.

One of Ara J’s crewmembers, who was on fire watch to monitor the hot work, alerted the rest of the crew, who reported to their fire stations. The crew began their attempt at extinguishing the fire. They were able to pull the hot torch out of the cargo hold and place it overboard.

The Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department reported to the fire at the Blount Island Marine Terminal. Its specially trained firefighters and their equipment were lowered into the cargo hold, where they shifted the position of containers and successfully extinguished the fire.

The fire caused no major structural damage to the 1998-built, Antigua-flagged vessel, according to Lt. J.C. Smith, an investigator with the Jacksonville fire department. Four or five containers, however, were badly damaged.

The ship did sustain some water damage, Ivey said. In addition, dirty water that accumulated in the ship as a result of the firefighting efforts had to be removed and disposed of in a way that did not harm the environment.

By Professional Mariner Staff