Boxship explosion and fire disaster puts 133 people in hospital

An explosion and fire that tore through a berthed container ship at the weekend caused 133 people to be hospitalized.

A fire broke out on a box ship at Laem Chabang port in Thailand (see video here), following an explosion, sometime between 06:30am and 07:00am on the morning of Saturday May 25.

According to the Public Disaster Department of the Thai Ministry of the Interior, the vessel was the KMTC Hong Kong (IMO 9157753), which was at berth A2 at Laem Chaebang. The identity of the vessel was confirmed by a local shipping agent.

Hospitalized for smoke injuries

A wide dispersal of smoke led to many people being hospitalized. A relief center was opened to help those affected and to help bring the injured to local hospitals.

Reports are confused but local media reports indicates that up to 25 workers were injured while the Public Disaster Department noted that 37 people were injured, although the department did not indicate whether they were workers or not.

The Public Disaster Department indicated that 133 people were hospitalized.

Pictures and video posted on social media show fires blazing and thick black clouds billowing from the stricken ship. Local wharf-side pictures show debris spread over concrete.

The public was warned to take shelter indoors to avoid breathing smoke and Laem Chabang port staff were evacuated.

The local area was also officially declared to be “danger zone”.

FreightWaves attempted to contact KMTC along with several executives in Thailand but was largely unsuccessful.

Investigation into cause underway

However, FreightWaves was able to contact one in-country shipping agent who did confirm today (Monday, May 27) the overall facts of the incident as reported are correct. The agent added that the operations at the port are not yet back to normal.

There is widespread speculation on the internet that the cause of the explosion was calcium hypochlorite, a chemical that is infamous for being prone to runaway self-heating and ignition. That chemical has been found to have been the cause of the destruction of several box-ships.

However, when FreightWaves spoke to a Thailand-based shipping agent we were told that the cause of the explosion and fire is currently unknown and is still subject to investigation.

Laem Chabang, KMTC Hong Kong, Thailand

Laem Chabang Port is Thailand’s main port and consists of seven box terminals, a multipurpose terminal, a ro-ro terminal a mixed ro-pax terminal and a general cargo terminal.

The port handled approximately 7.67 million twenty foot equivalent unit shipping containers in 2017, of which about 3.75 million TEU were import boxes (49 percent) and 3.92 million TEU were export boxes. About 3.75 million TEU were handled by international cargo vessels. The port’s international container terminal handled 13,313 ship calls.

The U.S. is the second-most popular destination for containerized exports from Laem Chabang. The port says that 332,842 TEU were exported to the U.S. in 2017.

The KMTC Hong Kong is a 1998-built ship, flagged in Korea. It has a length of 168.56 meters, a breadth of 27 meters and a gross tonnage of 16,731 tons.

Thailand has a nominal gross domestic product of US$487.2 billion, a population of 67.8 million and a GDP per capita of US$7,187.