Huge fireball erupts on fuel barge in Vanuatu bay

The vessel, which burst into flames while delivering fuel in mangrove-rich South West Bay on Malekula Island, has been salvaged

A fuel transport barge that burst into flames off a Vanuatu island is being towed to port, with salvage operators saying it did not spill the 100,000 litres of diesel on board into a pristine bay.

The Western Star, owned by Silentworld Shipping, burst into a massive fireball early Wednesday as it was unloading fuel at South West Bay on the island of Malekula, Vanuatu’s second largest island.

Three people onboard were injured but none of them seriously, according to Vanuatu’s maritime safety regulator.

The Western Star, a 160 tonne barge, is the only vessel certified to carry fuel to Vanuatu’s islands, which rely on its deliveries to run critical infrastructure, including medical facilities, telecommunication and power supplies.

Ocean Logistics, a shipping company based in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, sent a tug to assist in the emergency response and recovery operation. An oil boom and containment equipment sent to South West Bay was not deployed.

Ocean Logistics announced it had been successful in refloating the vessel on Thursday afternoon and it was being towed to Loganville on the northern island of Santo to have the diesel fuel on board, which remains intact, removed.

The transporter was carrying more than 8,000 litres of petrol in drums on the deck, with more than 100,000 litres of diesel in tanks below.

Vanuatu Maritime Safety Authority commissioner John Less Napuati said an emergency response team made up of officials and company representatives had worked together on a response plan.

Officers are now investigating what caused the fire. Napuati said early indications were that a portable pump may have caused a spark that ignited the fuel on deck.

Ginny Stein

The GuardianTramp

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