Tracking Chemical Hazards on the High Seas

    View Author August 2012

    On July 14, 2012 the container ship MSC Flaminia suffered an explosion while in the North Atlantic Ocean. The explosion occurred in a cargo hold, and a subsequent fire spread to other parts of the vessel, which was en route to Belgium from Charleston, South Carolina. The vessel burned for several days, and two crewmen were reportedly killed; the vessel was abandoned in the Atlantic, about 1,000 miles from the US. The ship reportedly had loaded in Charleston containers filled with combustible bleaching agent calcium hypochlorite, which were involved in the fire. The facts are still being established, and there have not been any substantive reports on the specific cause of this fire.

    The vessel is listing 8 degrees due to ingress of water used in fighting the fire. Approximately 1,200 to 1,500 containers are reported to be severely damaged or destroyed. The vessel has also suffered serious damages.

    Although the specific cause of the explosion and fire have not been determined, mis-declared, mis-stowed HAZMAT cargo that somehow ignited is believed to be the culprit. However, until salvors can get to the cargo, it is all conjecture.

    If there is fault on the part of any of the cargo interests, there could be substantial liability for the manufacturer and/or shipper of the cargo in regard to claims that might be asserted by the vessel owners, insurers, crew and other cargo interests. The shipper and manufacturer could be facing allegations of a major liability exposure for a hazardous cargo that may have been unstable, packed incorrectly or mislabeled.

    Our maritime attorneys have broad experience with this type of casualty. We will be following all aspects of the accident very closely and would be happy to report on, and discuss, any developments with you.