The fire onboard container ship ‘Yantain’ is quickly emerging as a case study for maritime casualty management.
The experts have requested a ‘Place of Refuge’ where a ship in need of assistance can take action to stabilize its condition.
Transport Canada has a ‘contingency plan’ to guide the risk assessment conducted by the regional office of Transport Canada.
Based on risk assessment, vessels falling under ‘low-risk category’ will be granted access to a port where they can be salvaged.
According to Hapag Llyod, a fire that originated onboard a Halifax bound container ship ‘Yantain’ is quickly emerging as an excellent case study when it comes to maritime casualty management.
The vessel caught fire on its journey and the fire was discovered to have originated in the fourth stack of containers on deck that housed hazardous and toxic substance known as ‘HNS Cargo’. Experts from Hapag Lloyd have determined that the surrounding cargo could also have been affected by smoke and water. The only hope obtained from this situation has been determined that the damage to the cargo has been confined to one-third of the ship.
What is HNS cargo?
An ‘HNS Cargo’ is hazardous cargo that is usually stored in the front end of the ship located away from the accommodation quarters to allow crew members to have a safe exit in case of a fire.
According to initial reports, it has been determined that the above-mentioned strategy was used for storage. This strategy allowed the crew members to safely steer the ship so the wind blew the smoke away from the accommodation area until they could be safely evacuated.
The fire was brought under control but the dispatch of two additional tugboats and the lack of progress towards a port suggests the fire is still problematic and firefighting efforts are still underway.
A safe haven for ship requested
The salvors have made a request to Transport Canada for a place of refuge. A place of refuge is a place, where a ship in need of assistance, can take action to stabilize its condition. Nation states are obviously reluctant to grant permission to damaged ships to enter home waters. The risk of pollution or even the outright sinking of the vessel is a significant concern.
The International Maritime Organization adopted the “Guidelines on places of refuge for ships in need of assistance” with the aim of encouraging states to offer assistance to vessels in distress, by performing a risk assessment before rejecting refuge applications by distressed vessels. Moreover, Transport Canada has a “Places of refuge contingency plan”to guide the risk assessment conducted by the regional office of Transport Canada, Canadian Coast Guard and other relevant government agencies.
Atlantic region enters the fray
There is a sub-plan available for the Atlantic region, which contains information about ports and facilities. Halifax has several advantages as a port of refuge. It provides a sheltered harbour, has tugs and pollution control equipment available, environmental contractors, Transport Canada offices, and cargo handling facilities.
Risk and structural assessment
The risk assessment looks at the condition of the ship, what actions have been taken and are proposed by the salvors and the controls that are in place and what the possible outcomes of the situation are. If the risk is deemed low, then a place of refuge is granted.
Transport Canada can also offer a place of refuge with conditions, or outright reject the request. If its rejected, then the government has the option of offer assistance offshore.
Vessel to reach safe haven shortly
In the case of the Yantain Express, the assessment will look at the structural condition of the ship, what the salvors’ intentions, and the serviceability of the ship’s equipment and engines, and the risk of pollution. Presumably, the fire will need to be substantially controlled before the ship is permitted to enter the port.
Once the Yantain Express is in port, cargo not damaged by the fire will be unloaded and transferred to a ship being sent to Halifax to collect it. The damaged cargo will also need to be removed, and hazardous contaminants dealt with. This incident will be ongoing for several weeks to come.
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS on fire in North Atlantic Chronology
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS fire UPDATE Jan 20
Progress seems to be very slow, port of destination remains unknown. Since towage commenced on Jan 16, until Jan 20, caravan moved some 280 nm in ESE direction, 70 nm daily. According to latest position, the ship is directed due east as of 0600 UTC Jan 20, probably it’s a technical turn, caused by firefighting or other problem, while the weather seems to be fine. Three offshore tugs are deployed now, SOVEREIGN (IMO 9262742) and MAERSK MOBILISER plus a newcomer, offshore supply ship HORIZON STAR (IMO 9752254).
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS fire UPDATE Jan 17
Latest HAPAG-LLOYD statement Jan 17: MV “Yantian Express” (voyage 108E) – Update 3 Further to our CustomerInfo of January 10, 2019 we would like to provide you with following status update: The salvage operations show continuous progress. The fire is widely contained and meanwhile the ocean-going tug “Union Sovereign” has arrived at the vessels position on January 15, 2019 to further assist the operations. Another ocean-going tug is on its way. At this time, it is not yet possible to make a precise estimate of any damage to Yantian Express or its cargo; this can only be more clearly assessed once the vessel reaches a port. Unfortunately, we cannot provide you with an ETA at the moment; this will be advised as soon as determined.
Comment: There’s some progress in towage in general western direction, port of destination unclear. Towage seems to be too slow, though the weather isn’t bad or rough. Most probably, firefighting is still going on, making towage difficult or from time to time, impossible. Two tugs at work as of 1800 UTC Jan 17: UNION SOVEREIGN and MAERSK MOBILISER.
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS fire UPDATE Jan 14
The ship with two salvage tugs is moving around, there’s no actual towage yet. Weather is fine, so it is not weather which hampers or delays towage, it is no doubt, fire and/or its’ dangerous consequences.
UPDATE: Two more tugs are to help with firefighting on YANTIAN EXPRESS: ATLANTIC ENTERPRISE (from NY or Halifax, not clear with this tug), UNION SOVEREIGN (IMO 9262742) sailed from Rotterdam.
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS fire UPDATE Jan 12
According to latest HAPAG-LLOYD statement, 5 crew were transferred back to YANTIAN EXPRESS, presumably on Jan 11. Fire said “to be largely contained and brought under control”.
Most probably, crew were transferred to container ship to facilitate towage and for a general reconnaissance. Maybe they remained on board, maybe they returned back to SMIT NICOBAR. It does seem like towage is ongoing, however slow and difficult. Average convoy speed on Jan 12 is 3 knots, with some 1100 nm distance to Halifax, assumedly port of destination, it’s some 2 weeks sailing, if weather permits.
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS fire UPDATE Jan 10
HAPAG-LLOYD issued a statement on Jan 10:
Container fire on the Yantian Express (voyage 108E) – Update 2 Further to our CustomerInfo of January 7, 2019 we would like to provide you with following status update: Based on the currently available information, we have to assume that all cargo in Bay 12 on deck and forward is directly affected by the fire, also all cargo in Hold 1 (Bay 1 to 9). Further, we have to expect that all cargo in Hold 2 (Bay 11 to 17) is affected by fire, smoke and / or damage caused by firefighting water. Damage caused by smoke, heat and / or firefighting water in adjacent areas is possible. All Reefers in Bay 1 to 24 are without power and switched off. All other Bays with Reefers are continuously supplied with power and in operation. As soon as the full extent of such damages can be accurately determined, we will promptly revert with further details. We fully understand that even at this point you would like to have further clarification on your shipment(s) onboard. Please appreciate that at this moment we are not in a position to provide any more specific information. Let us assure you that we are working hard on getting more detailed information on your cargo and will share this with you as soon as possible. We thank you for your trust in our company.
Not much change in ship’s position – salvors probably are still fighting fire, as probably, they can’t yet take the ship on tow, because boarding the ship is too risky. Both salvage tugs are nearby.
UPDATE Jan 8
Jan 8 1400 UTC position: Tugs SMIT NICOBAR and MAERSK MOBILISER nearby.
Jan 7 UPDATE: Some titbits allow us to assume, that containers with dangerous goods, most probably already on fire, were the main reason behind the decision to evacuate all the crew, though fire seems to be quite far from superstructure – as far in fact, as it is possible on board of a ship. And as well probably, those dangerous containers contain some goods which when on fire, emit poisonous fumes.
Tug MAERSK MOBILISER (IMO 9765471) should already arrive at the scene.
Jan 6 evening UPDATE: On Jan 6 the rest of crew were transferred from YANTIAN EXPRESS to salvage tug SMIT NICOBAR. All 23 crew are now on board of SMIT NICOBAR, which is continuing firefighting in improved weather conditions, but weather is to deteriorate soon, said US Coast Guard.
Tug MAERSK MOBILISER (IMO 9765471) left St. John’s, to tow YANTIAN EXPRESS to Halifax. It’s expected to arrive on site in the evening Jan 6.
Evacuation of all crew in container ships major fires became something of a rule – many containers with dangerous cargo, explosive or poisonous, is the main cause.
Jan 6 UPDATE: On Jan 5 11 out of 23 crew were transferred from YANTIAN EXPRESS to salvage tug SMIT NICOBAR. Both ships moved generally, in southern direction, most probably in an attempt to find best weather conditions, permitting more or less safe firefighting.
Jan 5 UPDATE: The ship is moving in the same direction in keep with western wind, tug SMIT NICOBAR (IMO 9322592) already approached YANTIAN EXPRESS. No other information available at the moment – we don’t yet have information with regards to:
Extent of fire – how many containers and rows are on fire;
How many containers contain dangerous goods;
How dangerous it is for the crew and is there need for evacuation, at least partial.
Jan 4: Photo was sent to MB by crew’s member – apparently taken from superstructure, most probably bridge, of containers on fire, which are located in fore area. Flames and thick smoke are directed fore, just like it should be with the ship bringing wind and sea to the aft.
Fire erupted in one of the containers on board of container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS at around 0500 UTC Jan 3 NE of Bermuda in vicinity 35 48N 50 03W, and spread to other containers. The ship is en route from NE Asia to Halifax Canada via Singapore, Colombo. It was already known about fire on Jan 3, but confirmed only on Jan 4. The ship reduced speed and changed course in an attempt to mitigate wind force, assisting crew firefighting. At 1300 UTC Jan 4 the ship was moving in NE direction at some 7 knots speed, apparently continuing firefighting. No other information available at the moment.
The weather is stormy, with W wind up to 20 ms, so probably Master is trying to direct flames and smoke in opposite from superstructure direction.
Container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS, IMO 9229831, dwt 100003, capacity 7506 TEU, built 2002, flag Germany, operator Hapag Lloyd, Hamburg.
My name is Mikhail Voytenko, I’m Russian, professional merchant marine navigator, by education and former experience. I own and run Maritime Bulletin website for more than 10 years. I've been involved in solving a number of piracy hijack cases, including the hijack of ro-ro FAINA, loaded with tanks. It was me who made public, and unravel, freighter ARCTIC SEA mystery. I've been also closely involved in a number of maritime disaster, one of them being MSC FLAMINIA major fire.