Fire on Maersk's container ship finally came under control today, but there was no success in finding the four missing crew members, including an Indian who have been untraceable since Tuesday's incident.
The Indian Coast Guard (ICG), which is co-ordinating search and rescue as well as fire fighting operations on the vessel in the Arabian Sea, feels the missing crew members may be trapped on board 'Maersk Honam' itself.
"The four missing crew is still not traceable, search is on. It is feared that they are trapped inside the ship," its spokesperson for the western region, deputy commandant Avinandan Mitra, said in a statement.
The 330-metre, Singapore-flagged vessel caught fire on Tuesday evening and crew members jumped off after they were unable to control the blaze. Answering their distress call, a passing vessel rescued 23. A Thai sailor succumbed to injuries yesterday, while four others are missing.
The Copenhagen-based shipping major had yesterday conceded that hopes to find the missing crew, which includes Sadik Hegde, an Indian cook, are "fading".
Ships from the ICG and two specialised private vessels commissioned by the company were able to get the fire under control, the ICG said.
"A thick plume of toxic fumes have now been replaced by white smoke which is a sign of cooling down of metal fire onboard the mega container ship," commandant Mitra said.
The ICG today classified it as a "chemical fire" and said that sustained firefighting efforts prevented the blaze from spreading to other parts of the ship, which is carrying over 7,800 containers.
Following the death of the Thai crew member, Maersk diverted the ship carrying evacuated crew members to Kochi. Three injured crew members disembarked to a smaller ICG vessel, which took them to Thiruvanantapuram, where they are being treated at a hospital.
Director general of Shipping Malini Shankar said ALS Ceres arrived late last night at Kochi along with 19 crew members, who have been put up at a state guest house.
DGS officials are helping the sailors from multiple nationalities with the paperwork before they fly back to their respective destinations.
The ill-fated vessel is stationary in the Arabian Sea, about 390 nautical miles off Lakshadweep's Agatti island.
Imagery shared today by ICG showed coordinated firefighting by various ships which have surrounded the vessel and what seems like water cannons.
Speaking to PTI yesterday, Maersk's chief operating officer Soren Toft had thanked the Indian agencies for all the help and added that the company will keep looking for the missing crew members till the last of the chances diminishes.
Asked about the cause of the fire, Toft said it is too early to "speculate" on that. The fire started from cargo hold number 3 on the vessel located close to the crew accommodation, he said.
Without specifying the quantity, Toft said a few of the over 7,800 containers on board had cargo classified as "dangerous". He, however, said it is premature to blame them for the fire and added that shipping lines regularly carry such cargo in the containers.
The ship has a capacity to carry 15,000 standard 20-foot equivalent (TEUs) containers and was carrying over 12,000 TEUs on the voyage from Singapore to Suez when the incident occurred on Tuesday.
The company's efforts are directed towards saving the ship commissioned only last year, he said.
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