Firefighting is underway at a Singapore flagged container vessel, which caught fire at sea near Agatti Island in Lakshwadeep Islands on Tuesday night. Of the 27 crew onboard, 13 are Indians. The Indian Coastguard (ICG), which rushed to aid the passengers, has rescued 23 members so far. Efforts to rescue the remaining four are on.
Both Navy and Coast Guard are trying to bring the fire under control. Efforts to locate the four missing crew still underway. “We are trying to bring the fire under control. The vessel in engulfed in flames hampering the operations. Our priority is to bring the blaze under control,” said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
According to the ICG, at 9.45 pm on Tuesday, its Maritime Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC) in Mumbai received a distress message from a Singapore flagged 330-metre long container ship Maersk Honam.
“The ship had left Singapore on March 1 and was having passage to Suez. The ship has 27 crew of which 13 are Indians including the Captain of the Ship. The remaining crew reported are Philipino, British, Romanian and Thai,” the ICG said.
There was reportedly an explosion and fire onboard the ship, which requested immediate assistance. “The ship was at a distance of 570 km (340 nautical miles) from Agatti in Lakshwadeep Islands. The MRCC immediately alerted all the merchant ships near to the location, through the satellite-based communication network, the International Safety Net (ISN),” the press release of ICG read.
@IndiaCoastGuard swiftly responded to major fire onboard MV Maersk Honam about 650 NM from Kochi on 06 Mar. MRCC Mumbai coordinated immediate rescue of 23 out of 27 crew through merchant vessels in area. ICG ship Shoor diverted for further assistance. @DefenceMinIndia pic.twitter.com/JyXJDhr3Gb
— Indian Coast Guard (@IndiaCoastGuard) March 7, 2018
“Simultaneously, Indian Coast Guard ship Shoor patrolling near Lakshadweep Islands has been diverted for assisting the distressed vessel. Further, the Coast Guard plans to press in their Dornier D 228 maritime reconnaissance aircraft from Agatti Island for search and rescue,” the release added.
Around 11.25 pm, Merchant Ship MV Als Cicero, among four other merchant vessels directed by ICG to provide assistance, reached Maersk Honam and reported that the vessel was on fire. “The merchant vessel reported that Maersk Honam was on fire with flames from the main deck of the ship rising upto the ships bridge (height of about 25 metres). The crew has abandoned the ship as fire spread beyond control. Mearsk Honam had 27 crew onboard, out of which 23 has been rescued by Als Cicero. Remaining four are missing,” added the ICG.
IG KR Nautiyal, the Coast Guard Commander (West) said, “Search Operations are on and Coast Guard assets have been pressed into action. It is our priority to save and rescue the four missing crew and also continue our efforts to salvage the vessel with assistance of specialized vessels which is being arranged in co-ordination with the Ship agency”.
At present, a search operation is in progress by merchant vessels Als Cicero, Seaspan Zambezi, Navigator Centauri and Al Jasrah. The search is being coordinated by Indian Coast Guard Regional HQ (West) and MRCC Mumbai.
In a statement today, Maersk Honam expressed regret at the incident. “The evacuated crew is obviously distressed, with two crew members currently receiving medical first aid onboard the ALS Ceres. We will offer crisis counselling for the seafarers signing-off and returning to their families and our thoughts and deepest empathy go out to the families of the crew members that are still unaccounted for. We will offer them all the support we can in this very difficult situation,” the company COO Soren Toft said. The company says the cause of the fire is yet to be ascertained.