A SERIOUS fire has broken out on board a 15,262 TEU Maersk Line containership in the Arabian Sea in which four crew members have gone missing.
Twenty-three other crew members were led to safety three hours after the blaze broke out in one of the holds of the Singapore-flagged Maersk Honam on Tuesday afternoon (15:20 GMT).
The Danish shipping line said in a statement that the vessel, carrying 7,860 containers, was enroute from Singapore towards Suez when the fire broke out.
'After being unsuccessful in their firefighting efforts, the crew sent out a distress signal and a total of 23 crew members were safely evacuated to the nearby vessel ALS Ceres, which arrived at the scene around 18:30 GMT. Regrettably, four crew members remain missing. The fire onboard the Maersk Honam continues and the situation of the vessel is very critical.'
Search and rescue operations are underway, the shipping line said, adding that three vessels in the Arabian Sea had been diverted to the scene 900 nautical miles southeast of Salalah, Oman.
The nationalities of the 27 crew members are: India (13), the Phillipines (9), Romania (1), South Africa (1), Thailand (2) and the United Kingdom (1).
The cause of the fire is currently unknown. Maersk Line said it will investigate the matter thoroughly in cooperation with all relevant authorities.
Chief Operating Officer and member of the executive board, AP Moller-Maersk, Soren Toft, said: 'We've received the news of Maersk Honam and the four missing crew members with the deepest regret and are now doing our outmost to continue the ongoing search and rescue operations.'
The company said it was in the process of informing the relatives of all crew members and acknowledged that this was a very difficult time for them.
'The evacuated crew is obviously distressed, with two crew members currently receiving medical first aid onboard the ALS Ceres. We will offer crisis counselling for the seafarers signing-off and returning to their families and our thoughts and deepest empathy go out to the families of the crew members that are still unaccounted for. We will offer them all the support we can in this very difficult situation,' said Mr Toft.
The fire comes hard on the heels of the loss of between 70 and 73 containers which fell overboard from the vessel Maersk Shanghai last weekend due to poor weather at sea while sailing to Charleston, South Carolina.
The company confirmed that the damage was limited to one cargo bay and that surveyors were onboard to assess the situation.
'We are working with the vessel owners to secure the cargo on board in order to find a suitable berth to discharge unaffected cargo. Once alongside, we will begin salvage operations for damaged cargo. We are working on alternate contingency plans for unimpacted cargo aboard the Maersk Shanghai to ensure timely delivery of our customer cargo. We are communicating with our customers directly to notify them of the situation and contingency plans when confirmed.'