‘Misdeclared’ cargo suspected in fire

A tugboat sprays the APL Austria, which was forced to dock in the Port of Ngqura on Monday after a fire broke out on board Picture: Eugene Coetzee
A tugboat sprays the APL Austria, which was forced to dock in the Port of Ngqura after a fire broke out on board
Picture: Eugene Coetzee

Cargo that was not properly declared and was stored below deck is the suspected cause of a fire on board the APL Austria.

The 300m container vessel caught alight last month and was forced to dock at the Port of Ngqura while sailing to Cape Town.

Mop-up operations were almost complete yesterday.

SA Maritime Safety Authority (Samsa) technical adviser Captain Daron Burgess said the suspected cause of the fire was an inorganic compound, calcium hypochlorite, that had been stored below deck.

It had not been declared as such on the ship’s manifest.

The “misdeclaring” of cargo, according to the latest Samsa annual report, has been identified as a safety risk which has long been a problem in the maritime industry.

Calcium hypochlorite is mainly used as a bleaching agent in products such as chlorine.

“It is suspected [that the cause was] calcium hypochlorite which was misdeclared and stowed below deck in the No 4 cargo hold,” Burgess said.

“However, a final report from fire experts has not yet been released so this cannot be confirmed at this stage.”

He said a preliminary investigation revealed that the ship’s crew were unaware of the nature of the cargo.

More than 100 other containers were damaged and had to be off-loaded as a result of the blaze.

“After high-pressure cleaning is done, we will be able to see the full extent of the damage to the vessel,” Burgess said.

The ship is likely to sail by Monday.

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