Aulac Fortune explosion believed to have been caused by gas accumulation

The two missing crew members of stricken chemical/oil products tanker Aulac Fortune (IMO 9541277) were last seen working on the main deck on January 8th, just before sailors started connecting hosepipes to an oil barge for a refuel. It was during this procedure at 11:30 local time that there were explosive blasts on the tanker.

Investigators believe the explosions were triggered from within a cargo hold of the tanker after an accumulation of flammable gas. There was no oil cargo on the ship at the time. The force of the explosions fanned out from the cargo holds, severely damaging other compartments and ripping open part of the main deck.

The 21 rescued crew members of the Aulac Fortune were being accommodated at the Panda Hotel in the Tsuen Wan district on Kowloon Island, Hong Kong.

One crew member was treated at hospital but recovered quite quickly.

The Hong Kong Coast Guard dispatched rescue helicopters and several SAR boats around the area of the Aulac Fortune, stating that it had not ruled out that the missing crew members were still stuck on the ship.

Rescue forces were still unable to board the vessel as the fire has not yet been extinguished completely, meaning that there was a risk of further explosions.

The Hong Kong authorities and the Hong Kong Marine Police Department continued to investigate the cause of the incident. Aulac Fortune had a load of 17,500 tons when it reached Hong Kong waters and anchored about a mile south of Lamma Island in preparation for refueling. Aulac Fortune had arrived in Hong Kong from Dongguan earlier in the morning when the explosion occurred in the dangerous goods anchorage south of Lamma. The explosion occurred near Turtle Beach, one of very few nesting grounds in southern China for endangered sea turtles, to the south of Lamma Island.

There were 27 people on board, including 25 Vietnamese crew members and two members of the supply ship from Hong Kong. Of these, 24 people were saved, one died and two, a deckhand and the main mechanic, were missing. On January 9th specialist rescue divers abseiled down a cargo hold of the listing tanker to search for the two missing sailors, but did not find anyone. Detectors for flammable gas were lowered into the enclosed space to check for any danger of further explosions, before the men were deployed. The divers also studied damages beneath the main deck and assessed the risk.

Firefighters had boarded the vessel earlier in the day after initial investigations determined it was not sinking.

2010-built, Vietnam-flagged, 11,290 gt Aulac Fortune is owned and managed by Aulac Corp of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. It is entered with West of England Club (Claims Contact Hong Kong) on behalf of Aulac Corp.