Deadly fire still burning on freighter in New Jersey, raising questions about response capacity

NEWARK, NJ (AP) — A freighter burned for a third day Friday at a New Jersey port after the blaze claimed the lives of two firefighters and revealed gaps in the ability of fire crews to respond to emergencies on huge container ships.

Crews fired water jets at the Italian-flagged Grande Costa d’Avorio moored in Newark as flames periodically erupted from the section of the ship where hundreds of vehicles were loaded across multiple decks.

The Coast Guard and other officials were to hold a news conference later Friday to provide an update.

Newark firefighters Augusto “Augie” Acabou and Wayne “Bear” Brooks Jr. died battling the fire that started Wednesday night on the ship’s 10th floor. The fire quickly reached the 11th and 12th floors as firefighters were forced to retreat in the intense heat. Five other firefighters were injured.

Newark Fire Chief Rufus Jackson said the department has trained on ships before, but not on the specific type of cargo ship it is currently dealing with. He described the ship as unique and different from passenger ships the ministry had trained on before.

Vessel traffic trackers show the ship, which was built in 2011, had arrived from the Port of Baltimore several days earlier.

Grimaldi Deep Sea said the fire started on the ship’s 10th deck as its 28 crew and local stevedores finished loading more than 1,200 new and used cars, vans and trucks to destination of West Africa.

The company’s statement said the crew immediately activated onboard fire suppression procedures and the local fire department was alerted, triggering a rapid response that was crucial to containing and controlling the fire. He also said no electric cars or dangerous cargo were on board, no fuel spills were detected and the vessel’s stability was not compromised.

The Grimaldi Group statement said the cause of the fire is not known, but it will investigate in cooperation with authorities.

The National Transportation Safety Board will investigate, but the Coast Guard is taking the lead, said NTSB spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris.

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