Sunday, October 19, 2008
A cargo ship loaded with chemicals and steel products exploded in a huge fireball and sank at Southpoint here yesterday. There were no casualties but the force of the blast shattered windows and shock waves were felt up to 3km away. The ship, Ing Hua Fu No 9, was being loaded with hundreds of tonnes of steel when its cargo hold caught fire about 4.30pm. The 10-man crew of Malaysians and Indonesians evacuated the ship minutes before it blew up. The blast is believed to have ripped open the bottom of the vessel, causing it to sink immediately. It sank about 6.15pm, but the top part of its bridge and the crane could still be seen as the water was not deep enough. At 68m long, the ship is almost the length of three tennis courts but considered small as container ships are about 200m long.The fire department, marine police and the Maritime Enforcement Agency cordoned off the area. Oil booms were placed around the ship to contain any oil slick from its fuel. Southpoint is managed by Northport Bhd. Its deputy chief operating officer, Mohd Haris Abdul Aziz, said the vessel arrived from Penang at 9am yesterday. The next port of call was Bintulu. Haris said the vessel was taking in steel bars and plates, here, but was carrying other cargo from Penang. He could not provide details on the cargo it was carrying, the cause of the explosion or whether it was carrying chemicals or other explosive substances."We need to get the manifest first." Police, however, said the ship was carrying chemicals. Other boats were brought in to salvage the vessel, but it sank quickly before port authorities were able to do anything. Haris said other operations in the port were going on as usual. The year-old Kuching-registered vessel operated along the coast of Peninsular Malay-sia and Sabah and Sarawak. Its Sarawakian owners are expected to arrive today to discuss salvage operations, which may take weeks. Union of Employees of Port Ancillary Services Suppliers secretary A. Balasubramaniam, who was also at the scene, urged port authorities to investigate if the ship had declared any dangerous cargo and if safety precautions had been taken. "There would have been grave danger to port workers and the crew if it was carrying such cargo.