The crew of a German-owned cargo ship have been issued with oxygen masks following an explosion which created three deadly gasses, coastguards said.
Seven crew members were stranded on the Antigua-registered AB Bilbao after water leaked into its cargo of 3,200 tonnes of Ferrocilicone, sparking a violent chemical reaction.
Inspectors from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency tonight boarded the vessel two miles off Margate, Kent, to assess if the ship could be moved.
Since the explosion yesterday morning, which jammed a main cargo door shut, gasses including hydrogen, phosphine and arsine, a derivative of arsenic, have started venting from the cargo hold.
Now crew members have been ordered to wear gas masks until the ship is towed to port, which may take several days. No one has been injured.
A Dover Coastguard spokesman said: ‘‘The vessel is a safe distance off Margate and we have a fire-fighting tug half a mile away in case anything should go badly wrong.
‘‘The explosion, caused when water came into contact with the raw cargo, has created three gasses, the most dangerous of which is hydrogen as it could cause an explosion. The other gasses are a danger to human life and the crew have been given respirators.
‘‘The MCA are on board to assess the situation while the gasses are vented from the hold. Once it is safe to do so the ship will be towed to an appropriate port where the cargo can be off-loaded and the ship repaired.’’