Maritime expert explains why cargo ship fire is particularly hazardous

(Nick Jones)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several firefighters are recovering from injuries, some serious, after an explosion occurred while battling a fire Thursday evening aboard a cargo ship docked at Blount Island, according to Fire Chief Keith Powers with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

Fire Chief Keith Powers with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department said ship fires are some of the most dangerous fires a firefighter will be faced with extinguishing.

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Maritime attorney Rod Sullivan spoke with News4Jax about the dangers of cargo ship fires, especially ones that are carrying automobiles.

“Those vehicles are filled with with gasoline and gasoline is a highly explosive substance, especially if it becomes vaporized and heats up,” Sullivan said. “One of the things to be concerned about is whether there are any electronic vehicles on this car carrier, because they’re powered by lithium ion batteries and once lithium ion batteries are exposed to heat and fire, they become very dangerous to personnel.”

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the explosion that injured the JFRD personnel.

Sullivan also spoke about some of the precautions that are taken when moving vehicles aboard a cargo ship.

“Any car carrier is filled with with cars with gasoline and oil, and therefore it has these CO2 (carbon dioxide) systems, and it has these deluge systems, and they’re pretty good at extinguishing fires, but a car carrier fire is a very difficult one to extinguish,” Sullivan said.

Based on data from JaxPort, the ship -- owned by Hoegh Autoliners -- was built in 2010 and sails under the flag of Norway. It originated in Freeport before sailing to the Blount Island Marine Terminal. The ship has 15 floors.

According to Powers, 120 JFRD personnel were sent to battle the fire. Eight firefighters were injured in the blast at hospitalized, while an additional firefighter was treated for heat exhaustion.

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