Inquiry into toxic gas leak on ship

Inquiry into toxic gas leak on ship

Eighteen people were treated after a toxic gas leak on a ship docked at a Northern Ireland harbour.

Potentially lethal fumes from a pesticide used to kill rats escaped when cargo on the vessel at Warrenpoint, Co Down, became wet and unstable.

Nine people including crew from the MV Arklow Meadow, which was carrying grain from Odessa in the Ukraine, and harbour workers were taken to hospital by ambulance after coming in direct contact with the gas.

Nine others were treated at the scene as a precaution. A spokeswoman for Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry said the men had been assessed and would be discharged tonight.

In a statement, the Warrenpoint Harbour Authority said a full investigation had been launched.

A spokeswoman said: “A cargo vessel containing grain was being discharged as normal.

“Staff noticed that several small packages of pesticide contained within the cargo had started to vaporise. We understand that the cargo of grain itself is not contaminated.

“The crew and staff were immediately evacuated from the ship and the Port’s emergency plan was enacted. Thirteen crew members and five Warrenpoint Harbour staff came into direct contact with the pesticide fume.”

The gas is aluminium phosphide, a pesticide used to kill small mammals such as moles and rodents.

Breathing it in can damage the lungs and cause wheezing or shortness of breath.

A 50 metre cordon was set up around the harbour. Dozens of homes and businesses were evacuated and the area was sealed off for over five hours.

SDLP MLA Karen McKevitt, whose constituency office is just 50 metres from Warrenpoint Harbour, was among those forced to flee.

She said: “It was quite scary at one time. When you are asked to leave you think this is real and what’s going to come to your door.

“Our thoughts are with those who have gone to hospital but I am glad that we are able to say thank goodness today. It could have been much worse.”

Ms McKevitt said the emergency services should be praised for their efforts.

Residents were allowed back into their homes shortly after lunchtime when the PSNI said the leak had been contained in a small area within the harbour.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: “While the incident remains ongoing at the Warrenpoint Harbour it has been contained to a small area within the harbour itself.

“Residents have returned to their homes and precautions regarding closing windows and doors can now be rescinded. The incident is being treated as an industrial accident and will be investigated by the Health and Safety Executive in consultation with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.”

The Public Health Agency said only those who had been in direct contact with the substance were at risk of adverse health effects.

At the height of the drama, 15 ambulances including three hazardous area response teams and eight fire crews were sent to the scene.

The Southern Health and Social Care Trust implemented a major incident plan and requested that only people with life-threatening conditions attend Daisy Hill accident and emergency.

A spokeswoman for the Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service said three crews would remain on standby at the harbour tonight as a precautionary measure.

The vessel belongs to the Co Wicklow-based Arklow Shipping. It was established in 1966, specialises in the dry bulk trade and has a fleet of more than 40 ships.

It also has offices in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. On the firm’s website, the Arklow Meadow is listed as a grain carrier which was built in South Korea in 2010.

It has been strengthened for heavy cargo. Arklow Shipping declined to comment on the leak.

Meanwhile, South Down MLAs Caitriona Ruane and John McCallister have called for a full investigation into the cause of the incident.

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