Watch CBS News

Industry experts say fires on large shipping vessels are on the rise

Industry experts say fires on large shipping vessels are on the rise
Industry experts say fires on large shipping vessels are on the rise 03:09

NEW YORK -- Fires on large shipping vessels are on the rise, according to industry experts, and Wednesday's deadly fire in Newark is not the first time in recent years a blaze like this has hurt firefighters.

It's an issue CBS New York investigative reporter Tim McNicholas has been digging into.

The global insurance company Allianz just released a report on this about a month ago. They say there were 200 fires reported on large shipping vessels in 2022 alone, the highest total in a decade, and 43 of them were on cargo or container ships.

The flames at Port Newark are heartbreaking, but familiar to maritime experts like Sal Mercogliano.

"We've known about these type of fires on these type of vessels for a long time," he said.

The former merchant mariner points out that in 2020, a fire and explosion on a car carrier hurt nine Jacksonville firefighters. The National Transportation Safety board blamed "an electrical fault from an improperly disconnected battery."

Grimaldi Group, the operator of the ship burning at Port Newark, says none of the cars onboard are electric, but some of them are used.

"A lot of these are used vehicles that probably can't meet requirements on U.S. roads anymore, so these vehicles may not have been the most safe vehicles to begin with," Mercogliano said.

Related stories

CBS New York discovered four other fires on Grimaldi Group ships over the last five years, including one on a car carrier in May of 2019 and one in March of 2019, when the Grande America caught fire then sunk off the coast of France.

Another fire in November of 2019 on a Grimaldi Group cargo ship triggered a safety report from the Maltese government, which concluded the fire was "most likely caused by fuel spilling accidentally onto a hot surface."

Last February, authorities said at least eight people died after a Grimaldi ferry caught fire near Greece. At the time, a company spokesperson said the fire started in an area of the ship where cars were parked.

"It's a lot for any shipping firm to have that. Now, fires are not unusual on a vessel, but the scope and scale of some of the fires that Grimaldi have have been a little bit higher than usual," Mercogliano said.

The cause of the Port Newark fire is still under investigation.

A Grimaldi spokesperson said in a statement, "The crew of the vessel immediately activated the on-board fire suppression procedures."

Mercogliano says the risks across the industry are exactly why authorities need adequate safety plans.

"If you look at airports, airports have their own firefighting units, they train for firefighting on aircraft, yet we don't see that in many U.S. ports around the world," he said.

"We do not have a fire department within the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, We do currently rely on the local municipalities, but again as this investigation unfolds, everything is on the table for consideration," said Beth Rooney, with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The Grimaldi Group says their thoughts and prayers are with the firefighters' families.

We've asked them what it has been doing to prevent fires and we're waiting to hear back.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.