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New response procedure following Newcastle ship emergencies

'Walking the plank' of the cargo vessel Priam, Photos by Station Officer Peter Markham The NSWFB is working with the Newcastle Port Corporation and explosives manufacturer Orica to produce a response procedure for dealing with ammonium nitrate accidents on ships using the Port of Newcastle. The response procedure is being drawn up following two recent emergencies involving vessels carrying ammonium nitrate, which is used to make explosives.

The first emergency occurred on 8 February 2007 when fire broke out in the engine room of the container ship, the Baltimar Boreas, shortly after it left Newcastle. The ship was carrying a cargo of mining equipment and 900 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at the time. The fire left the ship drifting without power out to sea off Port Stephens.

Although the ship’s crew had extinguished the engine room fire, due to the risk of an explosion, it was decided the Baltimar Boreas should not be allowed back into Newcastle until the NSWFB had thoroughly checked the vessel. A crew from Newcastle Fire Station were transported out in a pilot boat and made a hazardous transfer to the Baltimar Boreas as both vessels rocked in the two-metre swell.

Once on board, the firefighters checked the entire ship and cargo for any sign of heat or fire using a gas detector, thermal imaging camera, search cam and laser thermometer. After carrying out a thorough inspection, they gave the ‘all clear’. A tug then towed the ship back into Newcastle Harbour where its cargo was unloaded and the vessel moved to a remote part of the Harbour for repairs.

The second emergency happened on 11 July 2007 when hydraulic fluid leaked from a crane into the hold of the cargo vessel Priam during the loading of a cargo of  ammonium nitrate. The 1.2 tonne bags of ammonium nitrate were stacked three-deep in the hold and the leaking oil had contaminated bags on top of the stack and had also seeped down to the bottom of the hold - potentially an explosive mixture.

Firefighters from Newcastle, Mayfield West, Belmont, Boolaroo, Carrington, Hamilton, Lambton, Minmi, New Lambton, Tarro and Waratah Fire Stations responded to the incident. Inspector Greg Windeatt was Duty Commander at the scene.

“The first arriving fire crews determined that around 200 litres of hydraulic oil had leaked into the ship’s hold but were initially unable to establish the level of contamination,” said Inspector Greg Windeatt. “Atmospheric testing was conducted but no readings were present. Potential ignition processes/sources for fire were shut down and isolated. After liaison with other involved agencies, a one-kilometre exclusion zone was also established to protect public safety.”

With the arrival of daylight and the Incident Management Team led by Assistant Commissioner Bob Dobson, Director Greater Metropolitan Operations, wharf crews and a land crane were brought in to unload the cargo so the spill could be cleaned up while the NSWFB provided fire protection.

This involved two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus with two 38 mm charged lines of hose. One was positioned in the hold with the wharf crews, the other on the deck with an overview of the situation. Once the floor of the hold was uncovered, the leaked oil was then absorbed with sheeting supplied by the NSWFB’s Newcastle Hazmat Unit.

Story by Peter Scott, Public Affairs Officer

Photo: 'Walking the plank' of the cargo vessel Priam, Photos by Station Officer Peter Markham