THE GENERAL cargo vessel BBC Rhonetal (IMO 9614701) caught fire on 25 March at Port Hedland.

According to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, at 0330 WST, during cargo discharge operations from the ’tween deck of number 2 cargo hold, smoke was seen coming from the lower hold.

Just prior to this, hot work had been undertaken to remove cargo securing points from around the cargo to be discharged.

Personnel tried to extinguish the fire with the ship’s firefighting resources that were laid out for the hot work.

The intensity of the smoke overcame those in the hold and they were evacuated to deck, unsuccessful in their attempt to extinguish the blaze.

An emergency was called and crew mustered while stevedores evacuated to shore. Shore authorities, including the fire brigade, were notified.

As the situation escalated, the hatch cover was closed and the ship’s carbon dioxide fixed firefighting system was released into the cargo hold. Three harbour tugs stood by the ship and applied water over the deck to boundary cool the area.

The temperature of the ship’s deck was monitored over the following hours. By 1600, the temperature had stabilised, boundary cooling was stopped and ventilation of the site commenced.

The cargo hold was opened and at 1200 on 28 March, control of the site was handed back to the Pilbara Ports Authority.

The ATSB is conducting an investigation.

The ABC reported that several firefighters involved in the response were directed to self-isolate because the crew had not been given permission to disembark under WA’s COVID-19 laws.

BBC Rhonetal was built in 2013. It is flagged in Antigua and Barbuda and has a cargo capacity of 17,577 DWT. It is 161.4 metres long (LOA), with a width of 23 metres.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the vessel is still at Port Hedland, according to vessel-tracking sites