July 30, 1996
Coal fire Posed Danger to Crew, Coast Guard Says (Whitefish Point) -- The Coast Guard says a fire aboard the coal freighter H-M Griffith put the 28-member crew in grave danger. The temperature in the hold yesterday was so hot that the 730-foot ship's steel bulkheads glowed. Crewmen ended up dumping more than three-thousand tons of burning coal into Lake Superior.
A coal fire in a cargo hold is among the most dangerous of ship fires. Once started, coal is virtually impossible to extinguish and can smolder for weeks.Coast Guard Petty Officer Jack Crumbaugh says the crew was in a lot of danger because if the fire had gotten severe, it could have blown up the ship.
The Canadian vessel was headed south toward Sault Ste. Marie when the fire was discovered shortly before noon. It was loaded with nearly 32-thousand tons of coke, a highly carbonized residue used for making steel. Officials believe some of the cargo was loaded in an advanced stage of oxidation, which caused it to spontaneously combust aboard ship.
The problem is fairly common on lengthy ocean voyages but rare for ships making a Great Lakes passage. That's according to Captain John Pace, vice-president of fleet management for Canada Steamship Lines in Montreal. That company owns the Griffith.
Captain Steve Pauley ordered the crew to flood the tunnel surrounding the cargo hold to help reduce the temperature. The crew then began cooling the burning cargo with water hoses as it was run along conveyor belts normally used to load and unload the ship.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard dispatched the 140-foot cutter Katmai Bay from Sault Ste. Marie and two helicopters from Traverse City in case anyone needed to be rescued.
Instead, the crew decided to dump the 3-thousand-63 short tons, or 6-point-1 (m) million pounds, of burning coke into the lake. No injuries were reported. The ship was inspected last night at the Soo Locks, but Curumbauigh says there was no structural damage and only minor distortions to some of the metal gates that keep the cargo on the conveyor belts.
The ship left the locks bound for Lake Erie shortly after 4 a.m. today (7/31/96). Normally, cargo dumping on any of the Great Lakes is prohibited. But a Michigan Department of Environmental Quality official says dumping the coke would not pollute Lake Superior.
Reported by: alt.great-lakes newsgroup post