Fire crew file lawsuit after Hoegh Xiamen blast

Three months after a fire aboard car carrier Hoegh Xiamen (IMO 9431848)  in Jacksonville, Florida (IMN, June 8th 2020) a number of the firefighters injured in a related blast are suing for their injuries.

Legal firm Pajcic & Pajcic filed a lawsuit on behalf of 10 Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department employees on September 1st, 90 days after an explosion severely injured some of them. Some had to be treated at the burn unit in Gainesville, and three first responders were still off work, due to their injuries.

The vessel was berthed at Blount Island Marine Terminal when an explosion occurred on June 4th. The cause(s) of the incident are still under investigation, but the plaintiffs’ attorney, Curry Pajcic, said the ship had just been loaded with 2,400 secondhand cars that were to be transported to West Africa.

The suit states that at 18:45 on June 4th, while fighting the fire from the inside, at least 10 firefighters were in the stairwell when there was an explosion on the eighth deck.

Jacksonville Fire Chief Keith Powers told local media at the time that the vessel’s fire dampers have been shut in an effort to starve the fire of oxygen. He said that firefighters on board were dealing with zero visibility and enough heat to make the paint peel off the outside of the vessel. One firefighter was being treated for heat exhaustion.

The Jacksonville-based lawyer asserted that the ship had no flooding sprinkler system and no standpipes into which the firefighters could plug their hoses.

He said that they had to drag a hose up the ramp, up the stairwell and into the deck where the fire was. He said that the explosion was nearly catastrophic. Despite their protective gear, the heat and flames caused severe burns on firefighters, while one rescuer’s arm was broken.

The companies cited by the law firm were:

  • Hoegh Autoliners
  • Horizon Terminal Services
  • Grimaldi Deep Sea
  • SSA Marine.

The 600ft RoRo was carrying a consignment of used cars intended for export to the West African market. The ship’s most recent port call was Freeport, Texas. Its next scheduled stop was to be Baltimore, Maryland.

The plaintiffs are Captain Kristopher Jolly, Lt. Jeremy Lee, Chief Matthew Cipriani, Firefighter Paramedic Shawn O’Shell, Lt. Paul Masci, Firefighter Nicholas Gettler, Engineer Landon Simmons, Firefighter Paramedic Samuel Banks, Firefighter William Reed and Engineer Wesley Miller. Their spouses are also named.

The suit claims the crew loaded wrecked and junk cars to send to Africa, but that they failed to disconnect the batteries and electrical systems. Pajcic asserted that the crew had shut down the ship’s fire alarm system while it was in port, and, when time was crucial, the crew did not call 911 when the fire started.

Pajcic & Pajcic said that a crew had been employed who did not speak English and who therefore could not communicate with first responders trying to learn more about the location of the fire. It took more than 150 firefighters more than a week to put out the fire

The Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board are undertaking separate investigations.

The ship’s seventh deck was believed to have been the source of the fire shortly after the vessel completed loading operations, vessel operator Höegh Autoliners said.

The fire spread through several other levels up to the 11th deck and down to deck six, according to USCG Sector Jacksonville commander Captain Mark Vlaun.

The 12,250 dwt Höegh Xiamen is a 4,900 teu vehicle carrier built in 2010 and was operated via vessel charter by Grimaldi Group.

2010-built, Norway-flagged, 47,232 gt Hoegh Xiamen is owned by OCY Xiamen Ltd care of manager Höegh Autoliners Management AS of Oslo, Norway. ISM manager is Höegh Technical Management-Philippines of Manila, Philippines. It is entered with Gard P&I Club on behalf of OCY Xiamen Ltd. It is entered for H&M with Norwegian Hull Club as claims leader on behalf of Höegh Autoliners Management AS.