The car carrier Grande Costa d’Avorio continued to burn on Friday alongside the pier in Newark, New Jersey. As firefighters doused the top decks with water, gas tanks of automobiles parked inside continued to periodically explode.

“The projected timeline at this point is that the fire is going to burn for a couple more days,” said Thomas Wiker, president of Gallagher Marine Systems, during a press conference Friday morning. Gallagher Marine represents shipowner Grimaldi Deepsea on the response team.

“It’s impossible to give any kind of definitive timeline,” Wiker said.

The ongoing conflagration is beginning to have broader effects at the Port of New York and New Jersey, confirmed Beth Rooney, the port’s director.

“In addition to what is going on at the scene of the fire itself, we’re concerned about maintaining commerce in the rest of the port complex,” said Rooney, who described the impact so far as “modest.”

“We have been working closely with the unified command to manage and understand various impacts that may be evolving,” she said.

Cooling the ship, keeping it stable

The fire broke out at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on deck 10 of the vessel during loading operations. The Grande Costa d’Avorio has over 1,200 vehicles onboard, including new and used cars and vans, as well as 157 containers, and was destined for West Africa.

Two Newark firefighters, Augusto Acabou and Wayne Brooks Jr., died during initial firefighting operations on Wednesday night.

Landside view of the firefighting operations. (Photo: US Coast Guard)

When firefighters first boarded the burning car carrier, they found that their hoses and equipment were incompatible with shipboard systems, according to multiple press reports.

“That is currently a part of our investigation,” said Zeita Merchant, U.S Coast Guard captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey. “We can’t confirm that at this point in time. But it’s a part of what we’re looking at and that information will come out.”

Wiker said that “teams are fighting a variety of fires on several decks in the superstructure.” He said the vessel “is stable with a list to the starboard side” and that the response team “is continuing to monitor the status of the vessel and actions are planned to mitigate further listing.” There is no evidence of a spill in surrounding waters, he added.

According to Gordon Lorenson, project manager at salvage company Donjon-SMIT, the salvage company appointed by Grimaldi Deepsea, “Our plan for today is to contain the fire, cool the vessel so the fire no longer spreads and we keep it toward the top decks where it’s currently located, and work on dewatering the vessel — getting rid of the water that is being put on the vessel via fire pumps and taking some of the list out of the vessel so it remains stable.

“Every single one is different,” said Lorenson, speaking of shipboard fires in general. “You can do all the training in the world and you’re going to find something you’ve never seen before. 

“Access is tough. The heat is extreme — it’s a steel box. So, it’s a very complex situation. You need a very good plan to be able to put firefighters in the vessel to actually put out these fires.”

Car carrier operations affected — not containers

Regarding effects on the port complex in general, Rooney explained, “The channel in which the vessel is tied up has been closed to ship traffic. As a result, there is a modest amount of cargo activity that has been impacted, predominantly automobile [shipping].

“Additional car carriers that were expected to call at the port within the last 36 hours have been impacted. They remain at anchor. We’re working through contingency plans to move that cargo.”

Rooney continued: “Our container business is vitally important. We are the second-largest port in the country and the largest on the East Coast. And the good news is that the impact on the container terminals has been completely negligible. About 99.5% of our container activity is not impacted by these events so far. We’ll continue to monitor the situation, work closely with the terminal operators to mitigate any impact, and work through contingency plans to keep commerce moving.”

Left: Infrared film of the fire burning inside the ship. Right: View from above. (Videos: U.S. Coast Guard)

Click for more articles by Greg Miller 

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