Engine fire disables Dole reefer ship near Delaware port

Pm 260 Dole Colombia Rb

Crew aboard Dole Colombia used the ship’s fixed C02 system to extinguish an engine fire that happened soon after leaving port.

A refrigerated cargo ship operated by Dole was disabled by an engine room fire that started shortly after departing from a Delaware port. 

The fire aboard the 672-foot Dole Colombia happened shortly before midnight on June 28 after the ship got underway from the Port of Wilmington, the Coast Guard said. None of the 30 people on board were injured, and authorities reported no pollution. 

“The fire occurred in the vessel’s engine compartment,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Tara Molle-Carr, who is based in Baltimore, Md. “The origin of the fire was the vessel’s main engine. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.”

Crew aboard the Bahamas-flagged containerized fruit carrier used the ship’s fixed C02 firefighting system to extinguish the fire soon after it started. Molle-Carr said the engine room sustained minimal damage. 

Dole Fresh Fruit Co. runs its mid-Atlantic distribution hub from Wilmington, which also hosts a large Chiquita operation. The port describes itself as “the No. 1 banana port in North America.” It also is a hub for importing fruit from Chile each winter. Dole did not respond to an inquiry about the engine fire.

Dole Colombia arrived in Wilmington on June 27 following port calls in the banana-producing countries of Colombia, Costa Rica and Honduras, according to AIS data. The fire started shortly after the ship got off the pier after unloading its cargo.

“The vessel still had tugs alongside at the time of the fire,” Molle-Carr said. “With the assistance of the vessel’s bow thruster, they were able to safely moor back at the dock.” The names of the tugboats that assisted the ship were not identified. 

Dole Colombia was built in 1999 in Europe and originally equipped with a single 32,000-hp main engine turning a 22-foot fixed-pitch propeller. Bow and stern thrusters generating 1,950 hp also were installed on the ship, which has a sophisticated electrical plant to run the refrigeration system. The make and model of the main engine were not available. 

The Coast Guard continues to investigate the fire and declined to discuss a possible cause. However, the service praised the crew for its quick activation of the engine room’s C02 system, which deprived the fire of oxygen.

“I believe three things saved the crew and prevented this fire from turning into a major incident: the crew’s immediate actions when the fire erupted, integrated safety systems, and robust partnerships across the port,” Chief Warrant Officer Todd Wardwell, acting as the lead federal on-scene coordinator, said in a prepared statement. 

Dole Colombia left Wilmington on July 9. Publicly available AIS data did not show its destination.

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