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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

MSC Flaminia on fire and reportedly abandoned - calcium hypochlorite again ?

Another maritime casualty – a  984-foot container ship this time, which had departed the Port of Charleston’s Wando Terminal less than a week back. On 14th July 2012, the vessel  reportedly was roughly half way between Canada and England, about 1,000 miles from Cornwall, when the explosion and fire were reported.

We have heard of ‘bleach’ which refers to a number of chemicals that remove color, whiten, or disinfect, often via oxidation.  The bleaching process has been known for ages, but not the same chemicals have been used earlier.  Chlorine is the basis for the most commonly used bleaches, and many people commonly call calcium hypochlorite as the bleaching powder. Most bleaches are oxidizing agents.  Bleaches are used as household chemicals to whiten clothes and remove stains and as disinfectants, primarily in the bathroom and kitchen. Many bleaches have strong bactericidal properties, and are used for disinfecting and sterilizing and thus are used in swimming pool sanitation to control bacteria, viruses and algae and in any institution where sterile conditions are needed. They are also used in many industrial processes.  Calcium hypochlorite is a chemical compound with formula Ca(ClO)2. It is widely used for water treatment and as a bleaching agent (bleaching powder). Calcium hypochlorite, 70% available chlorine” is a commercial chemical which is transported in bags, in steel drums and in bulk. It is classified by the I.M.C.O. Code as an Oxidising Agent and is considered as inherently volatile.  Some serious accidents ships have been attributed to the involvement of this material.  

It is feared that in this material, accidental ignition may be followed by explosive effects and the fire evolves large quantities of oxygen, which produce an almost uncontrollable burning of any combustible material nearby.  It is further feared that there could be another scalp – there are reports that as of  morning July 16, 2012 -  MSC Flaminia is drifting in mid-Atlantic with a large plume of smoke seen from passing vessels. One of the four injured crew died from heavy burns on board of MSC Stella, the remaining three were taken to Azores by helicopter, one of them being treated in intensive care.  The reports state that Crew on board the container vessel were forced to abandon their ship after an explosion and subsequent fire in a cargo.   Falmouth Coastguard broadcast an alert to all vessels in the area and the nearest vessel which could provide assistance was the oil tanker DS Crown which immediately changed course to intercept the MSC Flaminia. Six other merchant vessels also proceeded to the location to help with the search and rescue operation but were more than six hours from the location. Rescue helicopters do not have the endurance required to attend an incident of this nature because the vessel is approximately 1,000 miles from land mid way between the UK and Canada.  Quoting news from the assisting vessels, it is stated that MSC Flaminia was still burning and 24 people have been provided help  from a lifeboat and a liferaft.

The MSC Flaminia is a  German flagged container vessel of 75,590 gross tonnage and had 25 people on board.  She was  built in 2001 by South Korean shipbuilder Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering, commonly abbreviated as DSME. Laid down on 5 March 2001 and launched on 26 May, she was completed and entered service in August of the same year. The ship, owned by Conti Reederei and managed by NSB Niederelbe, was chartered toMediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) for 16 years

The fire onboard MSC Flaminia has again raised concerns about the dangers of incorrect or falsified cargo manifests when volatile materials are shipped in containers as they are not supposed to be stowed inside the cargo holds. A similar fire seriously damaged Hyundai Fortune, a 5,551 TEU container ship, in 2006.  It is stated  that according to the cargo manifest the ship was not carrying calcium hypochlorite the inherently volatile cargo and the cause of fire is under investigation’

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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