Crew evacuated after fire on cargo ship in Baltic Sea

In the early hours of February 22, Latvia's Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC Riga) of the Coast Guard Service of the Navy received information from the cargo ship "Escape" that a fire had broken out on board, which could not be extinguished with the autonomous fire extinguishing system, and assistance was requested.

MRCC Riga immediately ordered the coast guard vessel KA-08 "Saule" to go to the scene. At the same time, the helicopter of the State Border Guard was ordered to be ready to take off immediately. Notification of all relevant services was also carried out, a naval release said.

At 02:57, the crew of the "Escape" left the ship in a lifeboat. MRCC Riga tasked a nearby cargo ship to rescue the crew. All crew members of the ship "Escape" were taken on board the ship "Kairit", for transfer to the port of Riga.

The tugboats "Stella" and "Orion", which are equipped with water tanks and foam generators, are also going to the location in order to extinguish the ship if necessary.

At the moment, the ship "Escape" is drifting toward the western coast of the Gulf of Riga. The coast guard ship in attendance did not observe open flames at the scene. The ship "Escape" sails under the flag of the Netherlands and carries a "dangerous cargo", said the naval release, without specifying the precise nature of the cargo. It was later stated that the cargo consisted of polymers and paint materials, though these have not caught fire.

Lieutenant Commander Pēteris Subbota, head of the Maritime Search and Rescue Coordination Center of the Coast Guard, told Latvian Radio that "as far as we have seen from the photos, the ship is in relatively good condition after the fire. The cargo is not affected. What we see are burn marks or soot marks on the hull of the ship, so we can conclude that the fire tried to escape either through the ventilation shafts or through the chimneys, but fortunately did not ignite the hull itself and died out naturally."

However, he admitted that there is a risk of the ship catching fire again. Though drifting, the 'Escape' is not moving a great distance and according to calculations, tugs should reach it before it runs aground.

According to online databases of marine vessels, the 'Escape' is a 168-meter-long container ship built in 2011 with a gross tonnage of 17,000 t. and had been en route from Klaipeda to Rīga.

Public relations manager of the State Environmental Service (VVD) Aija Jalinska stated that the service is aware of what is happening and its specialists are following the development of events, though the VVD currently has no information about any threats to the environment.

In Latvia, the causes of the fire will be investigated by the Transport Accident and Incident Investigation Office.

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