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Officials: Cargo ship fire that killed 2 FFs is extinguished

Salvage operations will begin now that the fire on the Grande Costa d’Avorio that killed 2 Newark FFs is out


Firefighters battle against a fire aboard the Italian-flagged Grande Costa d’Avorio cargo ship.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. — Crews extinguished the intensely burning fire aboard a cargo ship docked in New Jersey after nearly a week and are now beginning their investigation into the blaze that killed two firefighters, officials said Tuesday.

“We can officially declare the fire is out,” Coast Guard Capt. Zeita Merchant, the captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey, said during a news conference in Port Newark.

It could be a while before officials know the cause of the blaze that started late Wednesday and left two Newark firefighters dead and five others injured.

Authorities are now also beginning a salvage operation for the Grande Costa d’Avorio, which could take up to two months, Merchant said.

Manifests showed there were no lithium-ion battery vehicles onboard when the ship reached Newark, according to Bethann Rooney the port director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

However, it did have electric vehicles onboard when it reached Baltimore, where they were offloaded, she said. The ship had taken on used vehicles in Newark and was destined to do the same in Providence, Rhode Island before heading to West Africa, Rooney said.

The National Transportation Safety Board has warned about the possible dangers of electric vehicle battery fires, a hazard that stems from thermal runaway, a chemical reaction that causes uncontrolled battery temperature and pressure increases.

She described the hold of the ship as “essentially a parking garage” with ramps and different levels. The cars on board had “but a spit” of gasoline in their tanks, she said, adding that it was car components and other parts that were burning.

Killed in the blaze were Newark firefighters Augusto “Augie” Acabou and Wayne “Bear” Brooks Jr., whom officials praised for their bravery. Funeral services for the men were set for later this week.

The fire broke out about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday. About an hour later, there was a mayday call when two firefighters became trapped inside the ship. Acabou was rescued from the ship before midnight. He was later taken a hospital where he died Thursday morning. Brooks died early Thursday morning after he was recovered.

Part of the investigation will examine whether the Newark Fire Department knew there were no lives at risk when firefighters initially responded, Merchant said.

Officials have acknowledged that the fire department hadn’t recently done training on a ship like the Grande Costa d’Avorio and that they’d be discussing training going forward.

Grimaldi Deep Sea said in a statement last week that the crew immediately activated onboard fire suppression procedures and the local firefighting service was alerted, triggering a prompt response that was crucial to containing and controlling the blaze. It also said that no electric cars nor hazardous cargo were on board, no fuel spills had been detected, and the stability of the ship was not compromised.

The Grimaldi Group statement said the cause of the fire isn’t known, but it will investigate in cooperation with authorities.

A 2020 inferno aboard a U.S. Navy ship in San Diego reflects the challenge of containing fires aboard vessels. In that case, the USS Bonhomme Richard, a $1.2 billion amphibious assault ship, burned for nearly five days and eventually had to be scuttled.

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