Yantian Express fire likely caused by mis-declared charcoal

Yantian Express containers on fire. Credit: BSU Hapag LLoyd

The fire onboard the 7,200 teu Yantian Express, which destroyed 320 containers, last year may have been caused by mis-declared cargo charcoal pellets, according to Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) report.

The report, released today, 4 February, found that the burnt-out container where the blaze originated was said to have been containing coconut charcoal pellets as opposed to ‘coconut pellets’ listed in the cargo documents. The cargo box had been loaded onboard in Vietnam.

“In all likelihood, the cube-shaped pyrochar found here is used as fuel for shishas, i.e. water pipes. The char is sold in various sizes in cardboard containers. This pyrochar can also be used for barbecuing,” the report concluded.

The report also discovered, after lab testing, that the pyrochar charcoal pellets have the potential for autoignition and spontaneous combustion when the correct temperature is reached.

The BSU investigators suspect the mis-declaration of the product was intentional to avoid the required testing of it and then being classified as a dangerous good as defined by class 4.2 of the IMDG Code.

In the early hours of 3 January 2019 a fire broke out aboard the Hapag-Lloyd owned German flagged containership, Yantian Express in a container stowed on deck in cargo hold 2. The vessel was in the middle of the Atlantic on the way to Montreal, facing winds of 8-9 Force and low temperatures, which made the firefighting conditions challenging.

The BSU report also found that the CO2 flooding system for hold 1 did not fully discharge due to a malfunction in the time delay system, which made firefighting even more difficult for crew.

The fire was put out on 21 January after help from offshore tug Smit Nicobar and AHTS Sovereign. No crew were injured due to prompt evacuation.

The full report can be found here.