Initial firefighting on NJ car carrier became a rescue mission

Benito LaFauci, chief officer of the ship Grande Costa D’Avorio (IMO 9465382) told a US Coast Guard investigation board last week that the decision of two initial response New jersey firefighters to attempt to reach Deck 12 of the vehicles carrier led to their deaths.

The Italian-flagged Grande Costa D’Avorio, a combination roll-on/roll-off (ConRo) ship, caught fire on July 5th 2023 while it was loading used vehicles for export at Port Newark, New Jersey

The fire initially resulted in non-specialist firefighters from Newark, New Jersey, attending the scene. LaFauci told the USCG Board Coast Guard that Newark Fire Department officers came aboard shortly after 21:30 local time.

The captain and crew of the vessel attempted to put the fire out using fire extinguishers and water hoses, but the fire grew in intensity, Grimaldi stated. The heavy smoke forced the crew to leave Deck 10. The captain and crew activated the CO2 system in an attempt to suppress the fire. The captain also ordered the fire teams to spray water on Decks 11 and 12 to boundary cool the area above the fire.

LaFauci briefed the firefighters on the situation and how the crew had activated a carbon dioxide extinguishing system a few minutes before, trying to control the fire among 1,200 cars on the RoRo container vessel.

LaFauci told ship captain Alessandro Moretti, who was on the bridge, that the firefighters wanted to reach Deck 12 above the fire among vehicles on upper cargo decks. After Moretti agreed, LaFauci said he told the bo’sun to check if an aft staircase was safe after the carbon dioxide discharge. With the stairs clear of smoke, the firefighters ascended to the upper deck.

However, within minutes the LaFauci told the Captain “one firefighter missing”. At that point the firefighting stopped and the it became a rescue mission.

Shortly after, LaFauci told Moretti: “Captain, another one is missing”.

The firefighters recovered Fire Department captains Augusto ‘Augie’ Acabou, 45, and Wayne ‘Bear’ Brooks Jr, 49.

LaFauci said the bosun prepared one of the ship’s cranes to lower the bodies to the pier. The captains were pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. Other firefighters suffered smoke inhalation and burns.

The families of the firefighters and ship operators Grimaldi Deep Sea have contended that the fire started in a 2007 Jeep Wrangler that stevedores used as a push vehicle, moving cars up steep ramps to the vehicle cargo decks.

Grimaldi said (IMN September 25th 2023) that in a court filing that “a fire started from the underside of the Jeep Wrangler while it was being driven by an American Marine Services (AMS) employee and pushing a non-running Toyota Venza from the terminal to Deck 10 on the vessel”.

The fire took five days to be fully extinguished.

The 28 crewmembers on the vessel were all evacuated without injury.

2011-built, Italy-flagged, 47,232 gt Grande Costa D’Avorio is owned by Grimaldi Deep Sea SpA of Naples, Italy. It is managed by Grimaldi Group SpA of the same address. It is entered with North Standard (North of England) on behalf of Grimaldi Deep Sea SpA.