Coconut Charcoal the Likely Cause of Yantian Express Fire

Coconut charcoal has been identified as the likely cause of last year’s fire on board the containership Yantian Express, according to a report published by Germany’s Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU). 

However, the investigation could not clarify the cause of the fire unambiguously. This was especially due to the very long duration of the fire and the intensive use of firefighting water which changed the origin of the fire strongly. By procedure of exclusion, three containers which could possibly have caused the fire were identified.

The investigation showed that one of the containers was laden with coconut charcoal, which was erroneously declared coconut pellets.

As regards this plant coal, analogies are shown to the previous marine casualty investigation into the fire on the MSC Katrina. BSU said that the fire started by self-igniting of the charcoal stowed in one container.

On January 3, 2019, a fire broke out in the deck cargo in the area of cargo hold 2 on board the Germany-flagged Yantian Express which is owned by Hapag-Lloyd.

At the time of the incident, the 7,510 TEU ship was in the North Atlantic. It was due to reach Halifax the following day.

The ship’s command immediately ordered the crew to fight the fire. However, the crew did not succeed in containing the fire with shipboard resources and keeping it under control.

On January 4, the first tug reached the operation site and took over the firefighting operations with the help of its extinguishing monitors. Despite the action, the fire spread further in the deck area of cargo hold 1.

Due to the overall situation, the crew of Yantian Express was evacuated by a tug.

Subsequently, further tugs and supply ships reached the Yantian Express. Nineteen days after the fire broke out, the salvage company said the containers stowed on the deck of the Yantian Express were extinguished.

One month after the incident, the Yantian Express berthed in Freeport, Bahamas, for an evaluation process and cargo discharge preparation.

The Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation started its investigation on board after the ship had arrived on the anchorage of Freeport. In doing so, areas on the ship crucial for the development of the fire and the firefighting operations were inspected.

Several months after the incident, Hapag-Lloyd introduced a penalty of USD 15,000 per container for misdeclared hazardous cargoes. The company explained that, in order to ensure the safety of its crew, ships and other cargo on board, it holds the shipper liable and responsible for all costs and consequences related to violations, fines, damages, incidents, claims and corrective measures resulting from cases of undeclared or misdeclared cargoes.