Belfast Telegraph

Lying off Belfast for nearly a month, the cargo ship refused permission to dock after fire sparked a toxic fumes scare

By Linda Stewart

A cargo ship that has been languishing at the mouth of Belfast Lough for almost a month following a toxic fire is expected to finally dock in the next few days.

The Voge Fantasy, which is carrying a cargo of grain from Ukraine to Belfast, had been refused entrance to Belfast Harbour over fears that material in one of the holds was still smouldering.

On May 15 Lloyds Casualty tweeted there had been a fire in a hold of the Voge Fantasy while she was travelling off the coast of Cornwall en route from her last stop-off in Gilbraltar.

The Liberian-registered ship has been anchored in the outer reaches of Belfast Lough since arriving in early May, due to concerns that the temperature in the hold remained too high after the fire was extinguished using carbon dioxide.

It is understood the hold has had to be kept secure because of the threat that chemical reactions between the maize, carbon dioxide and fumigant used to treat the grain could have produced a dangerous mixture of carbon monoxide and phosphine gases.

While the fire is thought to have been extinguished, the authorities were concerned that opening the hold would allow an influx of air that could reignite any smouldering grain.

It is understood that two crew members were brought ashore for medical treatment after the Voge Fantasy arrived, but they have since returned to the ship.

Last night a spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency said the vessel is still in a stable condition and is anchored in the outer limits of Belfast Lough. "The ship owners appointed a salvage company and the salvage plan was approved by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency," he said.

"A final check on the two affected cargo holds will be carried out tomorrow (Friday). The vessel is likely to be given a berth in Belfast to unload undamaged cargo as soon as the safety certification is in place and a berth is available. The damaged cargo material will be 'isolated' on board the vessel and will also be discharged when the vessel is finally alongside."

A spokesperson for Belfast Harbour said: "Belfast Harbour is continuing to liaise with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and relevant authorities to assist with this incident. Given that the initial incident has not yet been fully resolved, a precautionary approach has been adopted to admitting the vessel to the Harbour." Earlier this week, the Bangor Marine Facebook page posted images of the Wilson North cargo ship coming alongside the Voge Fantasy as salvage experts oversaw the ship-to-ship transfer of cargo. It said that on Sunday stores and fuel were delivered from Bangor Harbour to the stricken vessel with the approval of the MCA.

On May 16 the MCA reported that two of its surveyors had boarded the Voge Fantasy along with Belfast Fire and Rescue Service and a defumigation specialist to inspect the vessel following a suspected fire. "There is no threat to life – the crew remain on board the vessel – or the local environment at the moment," a spokesman said.

Factfile

Vessel name: Voge Fantasy

Cargo: 7,139 metric tonnes of maize

Passage: From Nika Tera in Ukraine to Belfast

Flag: Liberia

Built: 1996

Last stop: Gibraltar

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