Harrison County

Tugboat fire near Cat Island could have been ‘lethal’ to marine life, fire chief says

Gulfport fire fighters use a deck hose on their fire boat to put out a blaze on a tug boat in a precarious situation. It was pushing a barge and had anhydrous ammonia and diesel fuel.
Gulfport fire fighters use a deck hose on their fire boat to put out a blaze on a tug boat in a precarious situation. It was pushing a barge and had anhydrous ammonia and diesel fuel.

The crew of a burning tugboat that contained hazardous materials evacuated before Gulfport firefighters put out the blaze.

The tugboat contained 2,500 pounds of anhydrous ammonia and had about 800 gallons of diesel fuel on hand, Gulfport Fire Chief Mike Beyerstedt said.

The 80-foot tugboat was pushing a 200-foot barge Thursday when it caught fire about 1 1/2 miles off the western tip of Cat Island, he said. The fire was believed to be a mile south of Pass Christian, but was 5 1/2 miles south of the city.

“Anhydrous will kill you,” Beyerstedt said.

“The anhydrous was used as a refrigerant for items they were carrying on the barge. I’m just happy our crew could put out the fire. It could have been potentially devastating to our marine resources.”

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources responded along with the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard called the Gulfport Fire Department to the scene.

“We had air-monitoring equipment and were testing for any release of anhydrous ammonia,” Beyerstedt said.

Firefighters fought the fire using a deck gun, which has a big nozzle, on the front of their boat. An “encapsulating agent” that is mixed with water helped contain the blaze.

“It puts out fires quicker, reduces heat and cuts down on vapors and fumes released in the air,” Beyerstedt said.

“When the fire was mostly out, firefighters boarded the boat with a hand line to finish putting out the blaze.”

The fire was reported about 1 p.m.

Nearly four hours later, the Gulfport fire boat was stationed nearby to await the arrival of the shipping company, which will deal with the evacuated crew and the clean-up, Beyerstedt said.

The tug, named Kathryn T. Devall, had been disconnected from the barge and was drifting in east Thursday night, according to Capt. Malcolm McLellan of Coast Guard Sector Mobile. The boat had moved about about a mile closer to Pass Christian.

A 100-foot sheen was coming from the barge, McLellan said.

The Coast Guard set up a 2 1/2-mile safety zone around the barge. An air monitoring service and a salvage company were on their way to the barge.

The Coast Guard had launched a 45-foot response boat and a cutter from Gulfport and an airplane crew from the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile.

The fire appeared to start in the engine room. The cause is under investigation.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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