Relief group awaiting MSC Flaminia survivors in England after blast damages ship

MSC Flaminia

A seafarers relief group is preparing for the arrival of survivors of the MSC Flaminia tonight in Falmouth, England, as salvage operations on the burning containership begin 1,000 miles away in the mid-Atlantic.

The 984-foot Flaminia, whose last port call was Charleston’s Wando Welch Terminal, was abandoned Saturday morning following an explosion and fatal fire far out at sea.

The ship had left Charleston on July 8, bound for Antwerp with a crew of 23 plus two passengers. It was carrying 2,876 shipping containers from North American and Caribbean ports.

One Flaminia crewman died of injuries from the fire, one remains missing, and another is in a burn ward in Portugal, according to the ship’s owner, German company Reederei NSB. Two other crewmen, with less-serious injuries, are in hospitals in the Azores and could be released later this week, the company said.

The cause of the incident and the condition of the ship won’t be known until salvage equipment arrives on the scene, according to NSB.

“This tragedy onboard MSC Flaminia has deeply afflicted me,” said Helmut Ponath, CEO of Reederei NSB. “Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased and the missing sailor as well as with the rescued and their families.”

In England, the Christian relief agency Mission to Seafarers, which works in ports around the world, is preparing to receive the uninjured crewmen and passengers, who are aboard a ship that rescued the survivors from lifeboats.

“I’m in contact with our team on the ground who have spent the day preparing for the crew’s arrival, purchasing clothes, toiletries and other essentials that were lost when they had to abandon ship,” said Ben Bailey, who handles public affairs for the organization.

He said Mission to Seafarers has been asked to have a priest bless the arriving ship, the oil tanker DS Crown, which also is carrying the body of the crewman who died.

In Charleston, retired Coast Guard Capt. John Cameron, executive director of the Charleston Branch Pilots Association, said he and the harbor pilots will be interested to see what an investigation of the incident, which will be conducted in Germany, will determine.

“We’re concerned because we are professional mariners and we know the people on that ship,” Cameron said. “Certainly, Germany has the ability to conduct a thorough investigation.”

The Flaminia has been calling at the Port of Charleston for years, and its last departure was “absolutely routine,” Cameron said.

Charleston was among 10 ports on the Flaminia’s route, and the last U.S. port call before the long Atlantic Ocean transit.

Marilyn Fajardo, a spokeswoman for the Seventh Coast Guard District, said the Coast Guard will not participate in the investigation because the incident happened in international waters and no U.S. citizens were among the crew.

The crew were German, Polish and Filipino nationals. There has been no information available as to the nationality of the two passengers.

Reederei NSB offers passage on most of its ships to a limited number of paying passengers, starting at around $100 per day for a private cabin. The company promotes the trips as a way to “experience at first hand the huge expanse of the sea and the incomparable atmosphere of today’s container ports with all their impressive technology.”

Reach David Slade at 937-5552 or Twitter @DSladeNews.