With the 692’x118’ ro/ro container vessel Grande Costa d’Avorio secured at a Port Newark, N.J., pier, the Coast Guard declared the fire out and stood down its unified command Wednesday.
“As the fire response phase concludes, the focus has now shifted toward investigation and salvage operations,” according to a statement from Coast Guard officials, who are working with Gallagher Marine Systems to plan the salvage phase. “Salvage operations will encompass the safe removal and recovery of the affected vessel, with the primary objective of minimizing any potential impact on the environment.”
The fire broke out on the night of July 5 on the vessel’s vehicle decks carrying a variety of new and used cars. Veteran Newark Fire Department officers Augusto Acabou, 45, and Wayne Brooks Jr., 49, died trapped amid burning vehicles.
Coast Guard officials said they are launching a formal investigation into the fire, working with the National Transportation Safety Board, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New Jersey State Fire Marshal, New Jersey State Police, Newark Fire Arson Division, Essex County Prosecutor “and a host of safety agencies to ensure we gain a critical and necessary understanding of the incident.”
The Newark Firefighters Union contends the Port Newark tragedy is connected to a longer-term attrition of the city fire department resources. The Grande Costa d’Avorio fire has also started a debate whether the port needs its own dedicated, on-site fire service.
“Our staffing levels are dangerously low,” said Michael Giunta, president of the Newark Firefighters Union, during a press conference. “We were approximately 600 firefighters protecting the city of Newark my first year on the job approximately 24 years ago. Now we’re just under 400 firefighters.”
Newark Mayor Ras J. Baraka disputed the union’s claims, saying the department staffing stands at 435.
“I find accusations of intentional understaffing and insufficient training of our public safety personnel very hurtful, and a personal affront to everything my administration and I stand for,” Baraka said in a prepared statement. “I find the timing very questionable. I welcome all dialog that will clear up groundless misperceptions and advance the brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day for the city they love.”