Around 9:30pm Est, Wednesday evening, A vehicle caught fire during loading operations on board the CON-RO vessel GRANDE COSTA D’AVORIO at the port NY/NJ Newark terminal. The ships crew activated the shipboard firefighting equipment, and called the Newark Fire department who responded. The fire was first reported on Deck 10, and quickly spread upwards to Decks 11 and 12.
The Newark FD Attempted to make a quick hit on the fire, but its rapid spread caused the firefighters to Retreat. In the process two went missing, causing maydays to be declared. they were found, but both have passed.
A statement from the ships owner, Grimaldi Deep Sea indicated the ship has 1200 new and used vehicles on board, and 157 containers. The Ship sails on the North America West Africa Loop. They also indicated the fire was under control, however it was clearly still burning, and reports from Friday morning, indicate that the fire is still spreading fueld by the exploding fuel tanks of cars on board.
Used vehicles are a significant hazard. unlike new vehicles, they can be full of fuel, may have other unknown contents, and be in questionable mechanical state. Used Toyotas in particular are a common export to Africa, both to be resold for driving, and as parts vehicles.
Car fires on RO-RO Vessels are a Huge issue. Vehicle decks are large open spaces, often with low ceilings, and vehicles are parked very close to each other, making movement between them very difficult. The Enclosed nature of the ship contains heat and smoke, decreasing visibility. The close proximity also means the fire can quickly spread. Cars burn at 1500F, which can cause other vehicles close by to light. Heating of surrounding decks can also cause vehicles on other decks to catch fire solely from heat transfer.
Ships have onboard firefighting systems, which are designed to meet international maritime standards. Its unlikely a municipal fire department will have adapters or compatible equipment. In this case it appears the Newark FD was attempting to use shipboard equipment, which was unable to provide sufficient pressure.
Using unfamiliar equipment is a problem. you don’t know if it will work, you dont know its capabilities. A better strategy would have been to lay hoseline into the ship, up a stair well to the 10th deck, and attack the fire from there with familiar and known equipment.
In May 2003, a Fire on board the vehicle deck of the Newfoundland ferry Joseph and Clara Smallwood was contained by Shipboard sprinklers, and Successfully fought by the ships crew while under way and local Volunteer Department once the ship docked. It took several hours to fully extinguish the fire. In that case, only one vehicle was on fire, and it was quickly detected and reacted to.
Grimaldi Group is the Parent Company of ACL. Used vehicles (And all manner of RV’s) are transported on ACL vessels via Fairview Cove, including used cars, bound for Africa.
Updates to Follow.
UPDATE 07/07 23:37
Things are not going well, the fire has spread forward and down 2 decks, As well vehicles on the top deck are visibly on fire. The ship now has a 3 degree list towards the pier. this apparently becomes a bigger concern at 5-6 degrees. the ships bridge has also been compromised by fire.
Salvage company Smit Don Jon is now leading the firefighting effort, though the inside of the ship is too hot to access.
The New Jersey Fire Officers union also released a statement, where they indicated that port authority members attempted to fight the fire with 1″ hoses, which were having no effect, so the Newark department had to take over.
So the NJ fire officers union is throwing their members under the bus? if your the Officer with Newark who arrived, Why would your initial tactical action to takeover what’s already in place – Newark determined that the port authority didn’t have the capability, so they took over and did the exact same thing!? Forget the lack of training in shipboard fires, there seems to be a lack of training in incident size up, and choosing appropriate initial tactical actions.
Look I’m a volunteer fire officer, I’m not trained in shipboard firefighting but I have worked as a longshoreman. If I roll up to that ship, I’m deploying an improvised stand pipe, ideally up an enclosed stairwell, and launching an attack from there. We saw no evidence that Newark FD attempted to run any of their own lines to attack the fire when it was clear the ships systems were not sufficient.
I think we also need to have a conversation if the fire fighting systems on board commercial vessels are sufficient to fight the kinds of Fires we see on board them.
In June 2020 A fire occurred on the PCTC Höegh Xiamen in Jacksonville, Florida. The fire managed to burn through several decks. that ship was managed by Grimaldi Deep Sea. in July a fire gutted the warship USS Bonhomme Richard at the San Diego Naval base. – fire started in a vehicle deck.
in 2019, Grande America, a ship of a similar design to the GRANDE COSTA D’AVORIO sunk after suffering a container fire on deck. the PCTC Grande Europa also suffered a fire at sea, but it was brought under control.
UPDATE 07/08 1500
the ship disappeared from AIS at 0845est this morning, suggesting that the bridge has now been lost, or has lost power. Sal Mercogliano Tweeted the below image of the ships general arrangement, overlaid on the fire image, which helps explain the situation.
as of Saturday afternoon, the fire is contained to the 11th deck, and its spread has been stopped. The List is being maintained to assist in dewatering operations. On Sunday deck 11 was being overhauld, meaning the majority of the fire was extinguished, and crews were working to make sure it was fully out.