Firefighters Battle Fire on Cargo Ship Docked at Port of Oakland

Oakland firefighters lugged their equipment up approximately 12 flights of stairs, through the narrow quarters of a cargo ship berthed at the Port of Oakland to battle a two-alarm fire Sunday evening, a battalion chief said.

Battalion Chief Geoff Hunter said firefighters responded to a report of a fire at 5:55 p.m. onboard the MOL Contribution, which U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Jacob Aulner said was located at Pier 32 in the port.

Fire crews arrived to find smoke coming from the upper decks of the large cargo container vessel, Hunter said.

The firefighters located the fire inside the ship's superstructure, which is a portion of the boat that juts up from the main deck, Aulner said.

The fire was inside the third officer's cabin and passageway area on the "F" deck, which is five decks above the main deck, Hunter said.

Fifteen of the ship's crewmembers were already at work fighting the fire when Oakland firefighters got there, Hunter said. The Oakland Fire Department assumed control of the firefighting efforts and Hunter said fire crews were able to extinguish the blaze within about 30 minutes.

He said the fire appeared to be electrical in nature and might have started after a piece of electrical equipment overheated.

Hunter said just gaining access to the fire was difficult.

"We had to climb up what would be approximately 12 flights of stairs just to get to where we needed to go," Hunter said. "Just getting our resources up there was difficult. It took a lot of effort."

No injuries were reported, he said.

Most of the ship's crew was on shore when the fire broke out, leaving just a skeleton squad on the ship, Hunter said. He estimated around 20 people were onboard when the fire broke out.

The fire spread from the third officer's cabin into a passageway and caused fire and smoke damage on the "F" deck and Hunters said there was smoke damage throughout the boat.

The bridge had to be evacuated early on, he said.

Without the early efforts of the crewmembers fighting the blaze, Hunter said the fire "absolutely could have spread further." The crewmembers have thermal protection gear, respirators and fire hoses onboard, he said.

"They did a very good job," Hunter said. "(The fire) had the potential to spread throughout the upper portion of the ship."

Aulner said the MOL Contribution was flying under a Marshall Island flag. Hunter said the ship was headed towards Hong Kong and was about three-quarters of the way loaded with cargo.

The ship will likely need to remain at the port for some time while crews restore the officer's sleeping quarters and make repairs, Aulner said. He said the Coast Guard would be conducting a follow-up investigation to ensure the ship is safe to travel.

Aulner said it is "way too early" in the investigation to know how long the ship would be moored at the port.

He said the Oakland Fire Department would continue to investigate the cause of the blaze.

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