A ship fire that killed two Newark, N.J. firefighters continued to burn this weekend as a unified command led by Coast Guard worked to suppress the blaze, and keep the Grande Costa d’Avorio from danger of capsize from a buildup of firefighting water.

Late Friday the 692’x118’ ro/ro container vessel’s list of 3 degrees on its starboard side toward the pier at Port Newark was manageable, but any increase into the 5 to 6 degrees range could be “the danger zone,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy said in a Friday press conference. But at mid-day Sunday, Coast Guard officials said there was significant progress in controlling the fire and the risk of capsize had lessened.

The fire broke out around 9:30 p.m. July 5 amid some 1,200 cars on the vessel’s upper decks. Two veterans of the Newark Fire Department, Augusto Acabou, 45, and Wayne Brooks Jr., 49, died on a car deck.

The Coast Guard established its unified command to include the Port Authority of NY/NJ, the Newark Fire Department and Gallagher Marine Systems to continue the response to the fire which was contained but still burning on the upper decks of the vessel late Friday.

Flames leap from cars on the ro/ro container ship Grande Costa d’Avorio at Port Newark, N.J. Elizabeth Fire Department aerial drone image.

“The vessel continues to list to the starboard side due to water build up from firefighting activities, but remains stable,” the Coast Guard said. “Salvage teams are working to remove water from the vessel and counter the list resulting from the firefighting activities”.

Additional air monitoring equipment was set up in the area, and out to Newark Liberty Airport, across from Port Newark on the west side of Interstate 95. No waterway pollution was reported in Newark Bay, but that is a concern with the mix of new and used cars carrying fuel and lubricant on the Grande Costa d’Avorio, and the Coast Guard said water sample testing continued amid the firefighting.

The Coast Guard declared a security zone within the Port Newark channel. While the Port of New York and New Jersey remains open with limited restrictions, the Port Newark Channel from Berth 18 inward was closed.

Operated by Grimaldi Lines and homeported in Palermo, Italy, the Grande Costa d’Avorio had departed Baltimore, Md., July 2 before arriving in Port Newark, according to the vessel tracking site MarineTraffic.

The Unified Command consisting of the U.S. Coast Guard, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Newark Fire Department, and Gallagher Marine Systems is continuing its response to the fire aboard the vessel at Port Newark.

“Thanks to the dedication of the responders on scene, we have made considerable progress overnight,” said Capt. Zeita Merchant, the captain of the port of New York and New Jersey and federal on-scene coordinator in an update late Saturday. “There is still significant work to do, and challenges ahead as we get closer to an end state, but the ability for agencies at all levels to work together in our response is a testament to our shared commitment and singular vision to ensuring the responders, the community, and the port remains safe.”

As of Saturday afternoon, the fire was contained on the 11th deck and and no longer spreading to other areas of the vessel. Responders also continued dewatering operations on the lower decks.

"Due to successful dewatering, the vessel has been further stabilized," the Coast Guard said. "The vessel will continue to list between one and two degrees to starboard as a way to accelerate the dewatering process." 

Air monitoring specialists, contracted by Gallagher Marine Systems, continues to perform air monitoring around the vessel and in the surrounding areas. Additional air monitoring devices are being deployed to extend the footprint of the monitored area. No detections above hazardous levels in the surrounding areas have been observed since the monitoring began on July 6 at 9 p.m. 

Around mid-morning Sunday Coast Guard officials released photos showing that "visible haze and smoke have significantly diminished surrounding the Grande Costa D’Avorio. 

“Public and responder safety remain a top priority for the Unified Command and even thought the progress made on fire suppression on the vessel is a significant victory, we will continue to deploy air and water monitoring resources," said Kevin S. Perry, Vice President of Emergency Response, Gallagher Marine Systems.

Two Newark fire captains who were injured were released from the hospital Saturday, according to Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Fragé. 

The U.S. Coast Guard continued to enforce a security zone within the Port Newark Channel and the Port Newark Channel from Berth 18 inward remains closed. The Port of New York and New Jersey remains open. 

“The Port Authority continues to remain focused on maintaining operations across the port,” said Port Authority Port Director Bethann Rooney. “We thank our partners in the Unified Command for their steadfast support throughout the response efforts.”

Sunday evening the Coast Guard reported "the 11th deck is being monitored and overhauled to address any remaining heat sources. Responders are dewatering spaces as necessary to ensure continued stability.

"With thunderstorms and significant wind gusts expected in the region for the remainder of the weekend, the Unified Command put measures in place to mitigate any potential impacts. They continue to monitor weather conditions and adjust operations as necessary to ensure the safety of the responders and response efforts."



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