Cargo ship headed to Halifax from Sri Lanka catches fire

A firefighting tugboat was dispatched late Friday to help extinguish a fire burning aboard a large container ship about 1,200 kilometres off Canada’s east coast, the Prince George Citizen website reported.

The ship was on its way from Sri Lanka to Halifax when the fire broke.

The international shipping company Hapag-Lloyd said the 320-metre Yantian Express was en route to Halifax on Thursday when a fire started inside a container on the ship’s forward deck and then spread to several other containers.

When the wind picked up to more than 20 kilometres per hour, the crew suspended fighting the blaze and retreated to safety, said company spokesman Tim Seifert.

“We’re focused on the security of the crew,” Seifert said in an interview from Hamburg, Germany, where the company is based. “We’ve had quite a hefty weather change … That’s the reason why we had to suspend the firefighting procedures.”

Seifert confirmed no one from the ship’s crew was injured, but he could not comment on the extent of damage.

There were eight officers and 15 seafarers aboard the ship, which was built in 2002 and is capable of carrying 7,510 standard 20-foot containers.

Seifert said the master of the ship was steering the vessel in the same direction as the wind, a manoeuvre intended to keep the flames from spreading to the rear of the ship, where the crew’s quarters are located.

The ship was its way from Colombo, Sri Lanka, to Halifax via the Suez Canal.

A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va., said coast guard officials in Boston received a call for help early Friday. At the time, the ship was 1,800 kilometres southeast of Cape Cod, Mass.

Chief Petty Officer 3rd Class Joshua Canup said he couldn’t comment on the extent of damage to the vessel or the well-being of the crew.

However, he confirmed that a cargo ship from the Netherlands, the MV Happy Ranger, was offering assistance.

“The coast guard continues to monitor the situation and a Good Samaritan vessel is on scene at this time,” he said.