Chemical cargo catches fire in Thai port, three piers closed
Flames ripped through a load of cargo including chemicals in Thailand's eastern Laem Chabang port on Saturday, 26 May 2019, forcing officials to evacuate workers and temporarily close three piers, authorities said. More than 130 people were taken to hospital, some complaining of irritation in the eyes and throat, others of a burning sensation on the skin but there were no major injuries, according to the Ministry of Public Health. All witnesses mention seeing an explosion prior to fire. Red flames and clouds of thick black and white smoke poured out of the South Korean container ship KMTC Hongkong Co through the morning and early afternoon at pier A2, port director Yuthana Mokkao said.
Initial checks showed the blaze broke out in a load of cargo containing the chemical calcium hypochlorite, he said. "We closed the pier where the fire broke out and two others that were affected by the fire." The fire at the port in the industrial Chonburi province, east of Bangkok, had now been contained and officials were looking for the cause, he added.
Thailand Port Authority (TPA) director Kamolsak Phromprayoon said on Sunday, 27 May 2019, that the overall damage from KMTC Hongkong explosions and major fire, would exceed $3,1 mil. Thailand authorities and all affected by accidents seem to go after cargo owners in order to get compensation. The ship arrived at Laem Chabang after calling at Busan Korea, and Chinese ports, chemicals which exploded and went on fire are as of now, believed to be either not declared, or declared as non-hazardous. TPA is collecting data from all affected people and businesses, to estimate the extent of damages. Thailand will probably, set up a special working group with relevant agencies to investigate the full extent of the impact from the chemical contamination on people’s health and the environment, being already pressed to do so by environmentalists.
According to Pollution Control Department’s report, hazardous pollutants such as Volatile Organic Compounds, formaldehyde and chlorine gas have been released by explosion and ensuing fire, and all of them can cause long-term health impacts.
Throughout night and day of Sunday, 26 May 2019, the fire though under control, was still smouldering in some containers. Reportedly, 35 loaded containers were destroyed or damaged. Authorities are prohibited to release overboard water used in fire fighting because it is contaminated. Calcium hypochlorite is believed, as of now, to be the cause of the fire but there’s no explosion/fire chronicle, to analyse the development of fire. Up to 200 people, including local residents, are said to be medically treated. Explosion debris fallout hit one of the main Thailand highways, Sukhumvit Road, which is crossing Sri Racha and Laem Chabang towns. Investigations are already under way, with the Korean ship owner being, it is rumoured, of a major interest for investigators, though fire and explosion of cargo in containers can hardly be his fault.
At 6h00 the fire was understood to be under control or extinguished, as of the morning of 26 May 2019. Fire fighters reported to cool and monitor the fire site, with most of the efforts and attention turned to chemical contamination, at sea, on land and in the air. The ship was fenced by booms, emergency staff were trying to collect fluid slime from destroyed or damaged containers. 143 people were injured by poisonous stuff released by explosion, 37 are said to be still at hospital, undergoing treatment. There were 676 containers on board on arrival, 443 were offloaded with 35 more to go.
Among containers destroyed or damaged by explosion and fire, five tank containers were loaded with liquid paraffin, 13 containers were loaded with Calcium Hypochlorite. What was that liquid stuff which burned skin and caused chest pain, is yet unclear.
Photos: Sawang Prateep, Sriracha Rescue Unit; Verayut
Source: Maritime Bulletin