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In tow and after more than ten hours of arduous and slow crossing, the Grande Europa freighter landed on Thursday in the port of Palma at the time of dawn. With the fire extinguished and the crew safe, the authorities ruled out yesterday that the ship, which was transporting more than 1,600 vehicles and 1,500 cubic meters of fuel oil when a fire started on board while sailing 15 miles (27 kilometers) from the National park of Cabrera , supposes nor has supposed any danger for the environment.
It was the happy ending of an incident that could have been much worse, and that began at dawn on Wednesday, between midnight and four in the morning. In those hours, according to the first version of the events that the shipowner company, the Italian Grimaldi Lines , has offered , two fires broke outon board. The shipping company says that the fire started in some of the new vehicles it was transporting while covering the route between the Italian port of Salerno (south of Naples) and Valencia. A first fire would have been detected on the third deck and was extinguished in 45 minutes by the crew with the material they had on board.
However, always according to that preliminary investigation of the incident – which will have to be reviewed and analyzed in detail by the Commission for Marine Accident Investigation of Italy , which is the competent one – hours later, at four in the morning, a second was located fire on deck eight, with the flames growing and spreading to deck number nine, and in which the crew also acted “quickly.”
This second fire, they maintain, was what caused the emergency call to be made and ended up making necessary the intervention of Maritime Rescue and of the General Directorate of the Merchant Navy, in an operation of rescue and rescue to which a vessel joined load of the Spanish Navy that was close to the area of the wreck.
The head of Maritime Rescue in the Balearic Islands, Miguel Félix Chicón, was at that time in Estonia, where he had to attend a congress. Upon hearing the news, he moved urgently to the archipelago to coordinate the operation in situ .
Failing to know the exact causes of the fire and debug responsibilities, a process always complex and in which strong economic interests are at stake, the experts consulted by this newspaper agree that there was a definite circumstance in the success of the rescue: the good weather. The force of the breezes was practically imperceptible and the sea was calm . This allowed a maneuver to extinguish the fire and a safer and more comfortable rescue operation . But in no case exempt of difficulty.
And, according to sources of Maritime Rescue , the ship, 183 meters long, had the rudder blocked to band. That is to say, on the one hand, what caused “no government” , that is, that its direction could not be controlled. That forced to realize a tow of secondary support from behind, placing a boat in the stern to do the times of rudder. This caused a navigation to lurches and forced to correct the course, slowing down the trailer a lot. “It is as if you try to stretch a car with the steering wheel blocked to the left,” yesterday explained graphically those same sources who, despite this, ruled out that there had been danger of sinking at any time. In addition, they underlined the great work of the captain and the ship’s sailors.
The collaboration of the captain and the 9 crew that remained on board, as well as the work of the ship’s fire systems, worked the rest, making the ship reach Palma without major hazards. And why was it decided to bring it to the coast to extinguish the fire? The Great Europe began to burn in an area far from the coast, in the cargo corridor between Algeria and the Balearic Islands. In this area, the depth is around 700 meters, which would have made it extremely difficult to extract the contaminating elements in case of sinking. There you can only work with robotics and it is extremely complicated. On the other hand, near the coast, as it happened with Don Pedro, the freighter sunk in Ibiza in 2007, you can work with divers. 93% of the fuel was extracted from that shipwreck.
According to the general director of the Merchant Navy, Benito Nunez , the shipping company Grimaldi must now present a plan for the Great Europe to leave the port of Palma in the coming weeks, once it evaluates the state of the ship. Núñez stressed that the ship does not mean “any danger” but “for prudence” a barrier is maintained around it.
Source: El Mundo