Firefighters have gained the upper hand after more than three days battling a dramatic fire aboard the Iron Chieftain at Port Kembla.
The CSL-owned bulk carrier leaned back in its berth a little Thursday afternoon, its belly full of water blasted in at a rate of 100 litres per second, at the height of the firefighting effort.
Assistant Commissioner Fire and Rescue NSW Wayne Phillips said firefighters had a breakthrough late Wednesday, as a vast quantity of expanding foam appeared to have its intended effect, seeping down into the smouldering mass and cooling temperatures in the hold.
By Thursday afternoon, firefighters were keeping watch over two hot spots, guarding against re-ignition.
“From late last night and early this morning we had really great success in actually extinguishing a substantial amount of fire here on the ship,” Comm Phillips said.
”This operation will probably continue overnight until I’m confident there’s no sign of fire or any heat on the ship.”
Up to 100 firefighters were placed on an around-the-clock roster as the fire proved difficult to get at.
Comm Phillips said it was too soon to calculate the cost of the operation, or to answer the question of who will foot the bill.
The fire is believed to have begun on the ship’s in-built conveyor belt, then spread to the hold as a load of the steel-making ingredient dolomite was being offloaded in the early hours of Monday morning.
Firefighters say the material did not fuel the blaze, rather it took hold in the ship’s rubber linings and gasses, rendering the hold a smouldering mass. The below-deck environment was considered too unsafe for crews, which fought the fire from the deck and from the wharf, using ladder platforms.
Booms have been placed around the ship as an environmental precaution.
Comm Phillips said the emergency posed no threat to the environment as all the water and foam used to fight the blaze remained trapped in the ship.
“We’ve had no leakage into the harbour and the community of Wollongong is very safe.”
The Environmantal Protection Authority is monitoring the emergency.
Experts were called in to advise how much water the Iron Chieftain could take on without it posing a sinking risk. The weight of the water used roughly replaced that of the offloaded dolomite cargo.
The fire was declared a port emergency and caused shipping operations to be suspended for almost seven hours.
Kell Dillon, Port Kembla Harbour Master, said the emergency had “not really” impacted on Bluescope’s operation and had left no damage to the port.
The ship will be handed over to investigating police and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau before an assessment can be made on whether the ship is salvagable.
“We’ll have … experts who will make assessments about that – whether we have to do repairs here or take it to another port, that will all come once we get past this phase,” Mr Dillon said.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.