All 27 people on the ConRo vessel owned and operated by the Italian Grimaldi Group abandoned ship early Monday morning and were rescued by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll.
The fire-stricken Italian-flagged ConRo vessel Grande America sank Tuesday afternoon about 180 nautical miles off the French coasts, according to the French Atlantic Maritime Prefecture, after a fire broke out Sunday night that caused all 27 people on board to abandon ship in the Bay of Biscay.
Firefighting operations by the tug Abeille Bourbon were suspended earlier on Tuesday due to the Grande America’s worsening tilt to its right side and the watering done to the bridge not allowing the fire inside the ship to be controlled, the Prefecture said in a status update.
The violence of the fire also increased over the 24 hours prior to the ship sinking just before 3:30 p.m., according to a status update.
The multimission frigate (FREMM) Aquitaine and the BSAA (building support and chartered assistance) VN Sapeur remained in the zone to ensure the safety of the area’s navigation and its surveillance, according to a status update.
The Grande America, owned and operated by the Italian Grimaldi Group, was en route from Hamburg in Germany to Casablanca in Morocco when the fire started in a container loaded on the weather deck before spreading to other nearby containers.
The Grimaldi Group said Monday in a press release the ship’s master decided shortly after 2 a.m. Monday to abandon ship with all on board — 26 crew members and one passenger — aboard a single lifeboat. They were safely evacuated onto the Royal Navy frigate HMS Argyll after the lifeboat sustained damage on the heavy seas and was unable to make headway.
Lt. Cmdr. Dave Tetchner, the HMS Argyll’s weapon engineer officer, said the lifeboat was “bobbing around like a cork in the bathtub.”
“The conditions were horrendous — the vessels were rolling at 30 degrees, which made it extremely hairy getting the sailors safely on board,” he said.
The 27 people who were rescued, none of whom suffered life-threatening injuries, were taken to the French port of Brest.
The fire on the now-sunken ship was the third serious containership fire in 2019. In January, fires broke out on both the 7,150-TEU Yantian Express and the 9,200-TEU APL Vancouver.
Andrew Kinsey, senior risk consultant at the insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty, said in January he was concerned the risk of fire is being normalized in the shipping industry.