Burning feeder injures 211 at Thai port

KMTC Hong Kong coming in to the port of Laem Chabang. Credit: Vinnes Geir

As many as 211 have been injured around the Thailand port of Laem Chabang, after 1,585 teu KMTC HONGKONG caught on fire and exploded while it sat at quayside.

The fire was first identified in the early hours of 24 May, from which it spread throughout the vessel to 35 containers. Damage was sustained by the vessel and the dockside. A series of explosions, reportedly from paraffin tank containers, blasted containers, and associated shrapnel from the deck of the vessel, has led to injuries.

Thereafter, chemicals burned in the fire were carried into the air and spread over a wide area, with 130 people reportedly hospitalised with symptoms, such as burning on the skin, irritation of the eyes, and breathing difficulties. Local authorities have surrounded the vessel with containment booms in an attempt to stem pollution. Following the incident, around 1,092 claims have been filed against the importer for injuries and damage to property.

According to IHS Markit data, the vessel was carrying 13 containers full of calcium hypochlorite, aka bleach and 5 containers full of chlorinated paraffin wax, the common denominator in a vast number of recent ship fires. All of the mentioned containers are still awaiting to be discharged from the vessel. Many shipping lines have opt to not to carry the substance due to its tendency for self-ignition. In many cases, however, calcium hypochlorite containers are misdeclared in order to persuade shipping lines to carry them and skirt hazardous cargo-handling premiums.

So far, the incident has formed part of an epidemic of major ship fires in 2019, which has recently claimed two Grimaldi container ro-ro vessels, Grande America and Grande Europa. The former sank in the Bay of Biscay in March after a vehicle caught fire below deck, while the latter suffered two independent fires in different parts of the vessel, in the space of four hours.

The importer was fined THB50,000 (USD1,572) for importing undeclared chemicals, while the estimated cost of damage and losses amounts to more than THB100million (USD3.1million).