Coconut Charcoal To Have Caused Fire on Container Ship


The Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) released an investigation report regarding the deck cargo fire on board the container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS in the Atlantic Ocean on 3 January 2019.

When and How?

During the early morning hours of 3 January 2019, a fire broke out in the deck cargo in the area of cargo hold 2 on board the German flagged container ship YANTIAN EXPRESS.

At that time, the ship was on the North Atlantic and was due to reach Halifax on the following day.

Crew and rescue teams efforts

The crew were immediately ordered by the ships command to fight the fire. But the crew did not manage to contain and keep the fire under control with shipboard resources.


In the late evening on 4 January 2019, the tug SMIT NICOBAR, reached the operation site and took over the firefighting operations with the help of the extinguishing monitors.

Despite the action taken by the SMIT NICOBAR, the fire spread further in the deck area of cargo hold 1. Due to the overall situation, at first a part of the YANTIAN EXPRESS’s crew and later the whole crew, left the ship and transferred to the tug.


On 7 January 2019, the MAERSK MOBILISER reached the operation site and took over the firefighting operations. As the situation on board the burning ship seemed safer, five crew members returned to the YANTIAN EXPRESS voluntarily and resumed the operation of the ship.

Containers stowed extinguished

The remaining crewmembers of the YANTIAN EYPRESS were taken to the next port by another ship of the shipping company. 

19 days after the fire broke out, the salvage company declared the containers stowed on deck of the YANTIAN EXPRESS extinguished.

On 22 January 2019, towing of the ship towards the Bahamas started. Later on, the YANTIAN EXPRESS continued its voyage under its own power. In doing so, the tugs accompanied it. On 26 January 2019, the last burning containers in cargo hold 1 were extinguished and all fire extinguishing pumps were stopped.

On board investigation

On 30 January 2019, tug and tow reached the anchorage of the port of refuge in Freeport, Bahamas and on 19 February 2019, the unloading of the containers in the area of cargo holds 1 and 2 started.

On 25 January 2019, the shipping company declared the general average in connection with the fire on board the YANTIAN EXPRESS. The Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation started its investigation on board after the ship had arrived on the anchorage of Freeport.

  • Areas on board crucial for the development of the fire and the firefighting operations were inspected. 
  • The area where the fire broke out was inspected thoroughly in the port. 
  • Unloading of the containers of this area was observed.

Cause of the fire

The BSU investigation could not clarify the cause of the fire unambiguously. This was especially due to the very long duration of the fire and the intensive use of firefighting water which changed the origin of the fire strongly.

  • By procedure of exclusion, three containers which could possibly have caused the fire, were identified.
  • The BSU stresses that one of the containers was laden with Coconut Charcoal, which was erroneously declared Coconut Pellets. 
  • As regards this plant coal, analogies are shown to the marine casualty investigation BSU 455/15 – fire on the MSC KATRINA by self-igniting of the charcoal stowed in one container.

To explore more about the Federal Bureau of Maritime Casualty Investigation (BSU) report, you can click on the PDF.

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Source: BSU


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