Fire shows global impact of container ships

The fire aboard the MSC Flaminia started on July 14 in the mid-Atlantic.

Illustrating how international commerce connects us all, a fire aboard a German-owned container ship chartered by a Swiss company, sailing from Charleston to Antwerp with a mostly Filipino crew, might affect Brazil nut supplies in Britain.

The fire that raged for nearly two weeks aboard the MSC Flaminia could increase Brazil nut scarcity in the United Kingdom, where they already are hard to get “due to disruptions in shipping,” Food News reported on agri-net.com.

Food News reported that there were at least 10 shipping containers of Brazil nuts aboard the Flaminia, and U.K. food importer Freeworld Trading said the destruction of that shipment could be enough to squeeze spot supplies.

The Flaminia was carrying 2,870 40-foot shipping containers when the fire broke out July 14, followed by an explosion, in the mid-Atlantic an estimated 1,000 miles from England.

The crew and two passengers abandoned ship, and at least one crewman was killed.

Survivors were rescued from lifeboats and taken to England aboard an oil tanker, and firefighting salvage tugs were dispatched, with the first arriving three days after the fire started.

Ship owner NSB Reederei said Thursday that the Flaminia was being towed toward the U.K., listing at 11 degree because of damaged cargo and the weight of water from firefighting efforts.

The fire was under control and the ship had been boarded by salvage experts, NSB said, but “a closer inspection of the cargo holds was not possible due to the ongoing generation of heat.”

Brazil nuts can be ruined by heat and moisture during shipment, and because of their high oil content can contribute to cargo fires, according to Transportation Information Service, which provides cargo loss prevention information from German insurance services.

“Brazil nuts should not be stowed near heat sources,” a TIS factsheet said. “Moist and heated Brazil nuts must be rejected.”

So it appears there’s little hope for those 10 containers of Brazil nuts.

In New Jersey, online nut wholesaler nuts.com has not been having trouble obtaining Brazil nuts, according to company spokeswoman Anne Swift, who gave her title as “chief marketing nut.”

“It’s possible the market is very different in Europe,” Swift said.

As to the Flaminia’s cargo, no information has been available about the contents of the remaining 2,866 containers, which could include cargo from ports in the U.S., Mexico and the Bahamas.

A single container could hold all the possessions of someone relocating to another country, or it could be full of agricultural products, or cardboard, or machine parts — just about anything.

No information has become available about the cause of the fire and explosion on the Flaminia. An investigation is expected in Germany, where the ship is flagged.

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSlade News.