Fire fighters were making final checks on the palm kernel cargo in the Lucy Oldendorff’s No 1 hold on Wednesday morning to ensure the fire is out.
The fire, which has been smouldering rather than flaming, has been an on-going issue since the ship arrived at the Tauranga Roadstead on Monday morning.
Fire fighters dealing with smouldering palm kernel. Picture: Port of Tauranga.
Port of Tauranga operations manager Phil Julian says the fire is thought to have begun a few days earlier when the crew of the bulk carrier fumigated the cargo.
“The ship was en-route from Singapore they did some fumigation,” says Phil. “When they went to vent the hold, smoke came out so they closed the hold down and injected CO2, put the fire out and contacted Maritime NZ and explained what happened.”
The fumigation process releases heat. One theory is the equipment used may have set fire to the pallet on which it was placed, says Phil.
The ship was directed to anchor in the roadstead and a team including MNZ, harbour masters, and fire fighters with an infra-red camera and gas detector went on board.
When they opened up the hatch to have a look the influx of fresh air rekindled the fire.
“They had a look and they dug around, it wasn’t actually a physical fire, it was more a smouldering,” says Phil.
Only a small section of the cargo was involved, an area about two metres by two metres or about four tonnes, he says. The decision was made to bring the ship alongside to deal with it.
The fire service spent Tuesday digging out the smouldering material and shovelling it into 200litre drums, which were taken ashore, tipped out on the wharf and the smouldering palm kernel doused.
Tauranga senior station officer Len Sabin says five appliances and command units were involved in the exercise.
“Manpower-wise it was resource heavy,” says Len. “We have to rotate teams of fire fighters to go down into the hold to manually remove the substance.
“We had to do it the old fashioned way with a spade and shovel initially because of the location of it in a corner where you couldn’t get access via their crane buckets and visibility wasn’t suitable for putting a digger in there initially either.”
The fire fighters shifted about three tonne by hand, before a digger could be lowered to remove about another three tonne of heated material.
Len says the cause is not known and he does not think it will ever be known for sure.
“This substance is susceptible to spontaneous combustion when water temperatures and oil temperatures are at a certain level. It could be a combination of several things. I don’t think we’ll ever get to the bottom of it.”
Cargo temperatures were checked again this morning and found to be back to normal.
The Liberian registered Lucy Oldendorff is carrying a total of about 30,000tonnes of palm kernel which will be discharged at Tauranga and New Plymouth.