On Wednesday last week at 9:30 p.m. local time, a fire erupted on board a vessel docked at the Port of Newark.
The vessel Grande Costa d’Avorio is a combination container roll-on roll-off vessel (ConRO) owned and operated by the Italian company Grimaldi Deep Sea, a part of the Grimaldi Group.
The fire erupted on the 10th deck as vehicles were being loaded. The vessel was carrying more than 1200 new and used vehicles and 157 containers. However, there weren’t any electric vehicles or hazardous materials on board.
“The crew of the vessel immediately activated the on-board fire suppression procedures while the local firefighting service was alerted, and their prompt response played a crucial role in containing and bringing the fire under control,” Grimaldi Group said in a statement.
Newark Fire Department Chief Rufus Jackson was quoted by The New York Times as saying emergency responders found five to seven vehicles on fire and that the flames quickly spread to the 11th and 12th decks of the car carrier.
Emergency responders consisted of personnel from the Port of New York and New Jersey, the Newark and New Jersey fire departments, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
The firefighting crew was pushed back by the intense heat. At 10:25 p.m. (local time) the firefighters called a “Mayday” after two firefighters were trapped inside the ship, followed by a second “Mayday” call 15 minutes later, city officials said.
“I saw the best of our city last night, firefighters struggling through intense heat and unimaginable conditions to try to extinguish a fire that had the potential to cause … major damage to not just the cargo ship but impact the operation of the entire port,” Newark Mayor, Ras Baraka expressed at a news conference.
“More than that, I saw Newark’s bravest struggle with every ounce of their strength and every measure of their training to rescue and save their brothers who had been trapped. There are no words to describe the courage I saw.”
Despite rescue efforts both trapped firemen later died in hospital. Augusto Acabou, 45, and Wayne Brooks Jr, 49, who “without hesitation gave their lives”.
Acabou served in the Newark Fire Division for 9 1/2 years and was assigned to Engine 16, Tour 1. Brooks was a veteran of the fire department for 16 1/2 years and was assigned to Ladder 4, Tour 1.
Another six emergency responders were injured in their heroic attempts to control the blaze.
Union officials representing the city’s firefighters allege that Mayor Ras Baraka’s administration has for years failed to adequately invest in the Newark Fire Division. The allegations include failure to properly staff the division, keep firefighting equipment in working order and properly maintain firehouses.
Baraka and city officials vehemently contest those complaints and pledge to hold a press conference next week to discuss the concerns raised.
The port was partially closed, with Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) Director of Port Operations, Bethann Rooney, saying: “The Port Authority continues to remain focused on maintaining operations across the port…”
The Port Channel was reopened as of 5 p.m. Sunday (local time). The Port of New York and New Jersey has remained open and operational.
After five days of battle, the fire was finally contained to the 11th deck and, after another day, the fire was extinguished.
The focus has now shifted to an investigation into the root cause and contributing factors of the blaze. The investigation will be led by the U.S. Coast Guard and assisted by the National Transportation Safety Board, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the New Jersey State Fire Marshal, the New Jersey State Police, the Newark Fire Arson Division, and the Essex County Prosecutor.
So far, there is an indication the firefighters’ equipment was incompatible with the European-made ship’s fire suppression system, sources close to the probe told ABC News on Thursday. The firefighters weren’t trained to handle blazes that take place on cargo boats, a source said.
Following the investigation, the vessel will be broken down for scrap.
Unfortunately, cargo fires like this one are not uncommon. Grimaldi Group alone had three other vessel fires in recent years.
In March 2019, Grimaldi’s Grande America caught fire and sank off the western coast of France caused by “some cargo loaded onboard the vessel.”
Only two months later, in May 2019, Grimaldi’s Grande Europa caught fire. Investigations led to the arrest and charge of the ship’s 3rd officer and two other crew members for intentionally starting the fire.
Last year, the company’s RORO Ferry Euroferry Olympia was involved in a deadly fire that killed 11 people. This blaze is suspected to be caused by a truck in the parking deck. The Greek Union of Lorry Drivers (SEOFAE) accused the company of overloading the ship, but Grimaldi reject this statement.
Freightplus express our deepest condolences to those affected by last week’s tragedy, especially the loved ones of Augusto Acabou and Wayne Brooks Jr.