One dead, seven hurt in tanker blast off Lamma

Top News | Sophie Hui 9 Jan 2019

At least one crewman died and seven were injured in an explosion on an oil tanker near Lamma Island. Two men were still missing last night.

Twenty two crew members were rescued after they jumped into the sea about one nautical mile from Ha Mei Wan as fire engulfed the ship and black smoke billowed into the sky.

The explosion happened when the Vietnamese oil and chemical tanker was preparing for an oil refill from a local barge anchored next to it.

The man who died and the two missing crew, all Vietnamese, were from the oil tanker.

The seven injured, including a Singaporean, were from the tanker and the barge.

Deputy District Commander of Marine Port District Wong Wai-hong said there were 25 crew members on the tanker, all of whom were Vietnamese, while there were four sailors on the oil barge.

The injured were sent to three hospitals. One was in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Queen Mary Hospital. Three remained hospitalized in Princess Margaret Hospital, while three sent to Ruttonjee Hospital, including the Singaporean, were discharged.

At about 11.30am police received reports that the 17,000-tonne, 144-meter-long tanker Aulan Fortune, which is registered in Vietnam, was on fire off Lamma Island. The vessel was en route from Donghuan City to Thailand and had stopped in Hong Kong for a fuel refill.

The fire, which was upgraded to a No 3 alarm fire at 1.33pm, was under control at 3.42pm and extinguished at 4.30pm.

A fisherman said: "I heard a bang, but didn't know what happened then I saw smoke from the ship and a fireball over it."

The whole ship tilted as the fire raged and sounds of explosions echoed across the water.

Yiu Men-yeung, Fire Services Department division commander for marine and diving, quoted the crews as saying the explosion happened when the barge's crew were preparing to fill the tanker.

"According to the oil barge crew, they were connecting the hoses for filling for the oil tanker when three explosions happened and then the ship was on fire," Yiu said. He added that firemen could not get on board to investigate the real cause of fire before the vessel was stabilized.

Yiu said because the tanker was tilted at 30 degrees and the fire started from the bottom of the ship, it was difficult for firemen to put out the blaze. But, following an assessment by the Marine Department, the tanker did not appear to be in danger of sinking.

"We have not found any oil leak," he said, adding there were no dangerous goods on board.

About 140 firemen and ambulancemen joined the rescue operation, during which three fire boats, one diving support vessel, two diving support speedboats, 20 fire trucks and 14 ambulances were dispatched.

The Government Flying Service sent two helicopters and nine personnel to join the search.

Transport sector lawmaker Frankie Yick Chi-ming believed the fire was due to human error.

"There are ships refilling from oil barges in Hong Kong waters every day, and we have had no fire in the past decades. This is a very special case," he said.

He also said there were regulations by International Maritime Organization over how oil refilling at sea should be carried out, including fire safety and how to properly connect the pipes.

Agriculture and fisheries sector lawmaker Steven Ho Chun-yin said some fishermen were concerned about oil spills in the sea, and hoped the government would take precaution measures including setting up an oil barrier.

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