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Cool heads prevail in marine emergency

14 May 2015

Last Friday the department took the helm as a ship with a container leaking acid headed towards Adelaide.

As it was a maritime emergency, DPTI was considered the control agency and had to coordinate nine other organisations to assess, contain and remove the hazard.

The problem on board the Maersk Launceston was identified by crew as they made their way from Fremantle.

At least one of ten large bladders inside a shipping container had begun leaking potentially 20,000 litres of formic acid.

As Dave Rogers, Manager Compliance Support, explains, the consequences could have been extremely serious.

“When acid combines with other materials if forms dangerous gases, including hydrogen gas, which is highly combustible,” he said.

“This meant the situation on the ship was potentially very dangerous.”

The first priority for Dave’s team of six was to work out if it was safe enough to let the vessel enter Port Adelaide.

Working with the Metropolitan Fire Service and the crew aboard the ship it was ascertained that conditions were safe enough to let it in.

In the background the department’s team was allocating responsibilities and keeping all involved, including the public, up to date.

This included  SAPOL, the EPA, SA Ambulance Service, Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Flinders Ports and customs.

Once the vessel arrived the MFS took charge of containing the hazard.

The culprit container wasn’t easy to get to. It was in the middle of a stack, including some sealed for customs.

Before the containers could be moved the crew had to train the firefighters on how to unlash them.

The suspect container was then moved off of the ship and cleaned.

Acid still on the ship was neutralised with soda ash.

Once the ship was declared safe, DPTI rescinded its role as incident controller.

The vessel was cleared to leave and all was declared safe at the Port, at 3:00pm on Saturday.

It was the first incident of its kind seen in South Australia and Dave said his team handled it extremely professionally.

“Because no agency had trained for a complex incident like this, we needed very clear communication between us all to ensure all risks were covered.

“Everyone played their role and the risk was quickly neutralised, which is exactly the result we aim for.”

Congratulations to Dave’s team of Abigail Walters, Ken Rickard, Marilyn Hood, Peter Thomas and Rebecca Kuss.