Gas tanker catches fire offshore Hong Kong

Nov 25, 2002 01:00 AM

The crew of 34 on the Panamanian-registered gas carrier "Gaz Poem" was rescued and there were no casualties after fire broke out in the engine-room of the vessel, about 24 miles from Hong Kong, and far from residential areas, authorities said.
"If the fire was to keep burning with 20,000 tons of LPG, there would be a major, major explosion," Captain Ravi Dewan, head of the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre, told.

The incident comes less than a week after a tanker broke in half and sank off the northern coast of Spain, spewing out an estimated 11,000 tons of fuel oil, and taking down with it roughly six times that. Firemen from Hong and China battled the blaze on the "Gaz Poem", but Dewan said he expected it to burn for some hours yet.
The fire broke out in the engine room in a Maritime Search and Rescue spokesman said. Local television showed footage of flames licking the superstructure. The vessel had left Hong Kong on November 20, headed for the southern Chinese port of Yan Tian.

"The fire is still on, but luckily in the back part of the ship, away from the cargo area," Dewan said. "The head of the ship is into the wind so the wind is pushing the fire back to the back side rather than towards the cargo area."
Dewan said the ship was "very far away" from the Daya Bay nuclear power plant in southern China, or any residential area. The vessel is 24 miles east of Waglan Island, which is about 2.5 miles from the south-eastern tip of Hong Kong island. "We are keeping everybody far away from the ship," he added.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese navy said a storm-damaged oil tanker which broke in two and sank off the Spanish coast, polluting hundreds of kilometres of coastline, was still leaking fuel oil. Spain has disputed the Portuguese navy's reports. Deputy Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said there was only a thin film of oil where the tanker went down. The Prestige, a 26-year-old, single-hulled tanker, broke up and sank after spilling nearly 11,000 tons of oil.
Its original 77,000 ton cargo was twice the amount of oil spilled when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989, creating an environmental disaster. Captain Augusto Ezequiel, technical director of the Portuguese navy's Hydrographical Institute, said navy aircraft monitoring the site, 135 miles west of Spain's Galician coast, sighted a slick about 3 km long and a few hundred yards wide.

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