The Arklow Meadow incident led to the evacuation of a harbour in Northern Ireland

A Marine Accident
Investigation Branch (MAIB) investigation into a toxic gas leak on a ship has been published.

The incident led to the evacuation of a
harbour in County Down and the treatment of 12 people.

On 5 December 2012, a fumigated cargo
of 13,276 tonnes of maize was being discharged from the general cargo vessel Arklow
Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland when it became apparent that the fumigant was
still active.

Crew noticed that the fumigant retainers, which had been removed from the cargo holds, were starting to smoke.

Cargo operations were immediately
stopped and Arklow Meadow‘s crew were evacuated to the quayside.

Emergency response

The local fire brigade was quickly on
the scene and established a 50 metre cordon around the vessel. Houses and
retail premises surrounding the port area were also evacuated by the police as
a precautionary measure.

Eight of Arklow Meadow‘s 11 crew and a dockworker were
taken to hospital for observation and decontamination.

A total of 89 fumigant retainers were
recovered from the vessel and shore areas, leaving 21 fumigant retainers
unaccounted for.

The recovered retainers were
neutralised by immersing them in water. It took five days for the level of
phosphine gas in the vessel’s cargo holds to reduce to a safe level.

The MAIB investigation identified that:

  • The
    fumigant compound (aluminium phosphide) had probably remained active due to its
    tight packaging and the relatively low humidity in the cargo holds during the
    vessel’s voyage from the Ukraine.
  • Although
    the levels of phosphine gas in the atmosphere at the tops of the cargo holds
    had been assessed to have been safe, the fumigant retainers were not removed
    from on top of the maize cargo before cargo operations were started.
  • Onboard
    procedures for the carriage of fumigated cargoes were scant and the
    instructions provided by the fumigator in the Ukraine were not followed.
  • Although
    Warrenpoint Harbour Authority reacted quickly, the port had not developed
    procedures or emergency plans dealing specifically with the potential hazards
    associated with fumigants.

recommendation has been made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency aimed at
improving the guidance available regarding the carriage of fumigated cargoes.

recommendation has also been made to the British Ports Association and the
United Kingdom Major Ports Group to help ensure that all UK ports have
procedures and emergency plans in place when dealing with fumigated cargoes.

The MAIB has:

issued a safety flyer to
the shipping industry highlighting the circumstances of this accident and the
lessons to be learned.

Arklow Shipping has:

  • Completed
    its own investigation into the accident.
  • Revised
    its risk assessments to include fumigation operations.
  • Provided
    clear instructions for masters and crew for fumigation of cargoes within its

The British Pest Control Association

to maintain a list of UK-trained fumigators who are qualified to be a
‘fumigator in charge’ on board vessels carrying fumigated cargoes, and to make
the professional details of these fumigators available, on request, to
interested bodies such as port authorities, ships’ agents and charterers.

Click here to read the report in full