Firefighters board MSC Flaminia at sea

A second firefighting tugboat, ANGLIAN SOVEREIGN, arrived this morning at the site of the fire aboard the MSC Flaminia. (Photo provided by NSB Niederelbe)

Salvage experts this morning boarded the MSC Flaminia, a 984-foot containership that has been on fire in the mid-Atlantic since Saturday, and reactivated firefighting systems as tugboats sprayed the loaded vessel with water.

The Flaminia, whose last port call was Charleston, was abandoned by its crew of 23 after a fire and explosion killed at least one crewman. A second seaman is missing, and three remain hospitalized.

It could take weeks to control the fire, according to the ship’s owner, Reederei NSB, of Germany.

The company this morning described damage aboard the ship as “considerable” with cargo holds 4, 5 and 6 “demolished.”

The Flaminia is roughly 600 miles from the British coast, listing 8.5 degrees due to shifting cargo and the weight of water from firefighting efforts, NSB reported.

The heavy salvage tug Fairmount Expedition arrived on the scene Tuesday and started efforts to quell the fire, but temporarily retreated after there was another explosion aboard the Flaminia, the company said. Firefighting resumed Wednesday and a second tug, the Anglian Sovereign, arrived this morning and joined the effort.

The causes of the fire and subsequent explosion Saturday, and the explosion Tuesday that temporarily halted firefighting efforts, have not been determined but will be the subject of an investigation in Germany.

The ship was carrying 2,876 shipping containers from ports in the U.S., Caribbean and South America.

NSB has not discussed the cargo in detail but said firefighting efforts were temporarily halted Tuesday because “after the evaluation of the situation on site by our experts, the danger of continuing the firefighting operations was too high due to dangerous goods which are onboard.”

The Flaminia was sailing from Charleston to Antwerp, Belgium, when the fire broke out about 1,000 miles from England, according to the United Kingdom’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

In Charleston, where the ship called on the Wando Welch Terminal before departing for Antwerp on July 8, the State Ports Authority and Mediterranean Shipping Co. have declined to comment. The Flaminia was chartered by MSC.

In Germany, NSB said a third salvage tug was expected to join the firefighting and salvage effort Saturday. The ship is flagged in Germany, and any investigation of the incident will be conducted there.

The uninjured Flaminia survivors, including 18 crew members and two passengers, arrived in Falmouth, England, early Thursday aboard the oil tanker DS Crown, which rescued them from lifeboats.

“It is difficult to imagine the horror that these people have suffered whilst transiting the ocean,” said Penny Phillips, of the relief group The Mission to Seafarers, in a report on the organization’s website.

The group provided services for the survivors, including a request to provide a priest to bless the ship that carried them and the body of the deceased crewman.

Marilyn Fajardo, a spokeswoman for the U.S. 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.

Crew members were German, Polish and Filipino nationals. NSB has refused to provide information about the nationality of the two passengers, but the Mission to Seafarers said both were men from the United States.

Like many cargo ship owners, NSB offers passage on container ships to a limited number of paying customers.

“Experts estimate that the firefighting operations could take some weeks,” the company said. “Afterwards, MSC Flaminia is supposed to be towed to Europe for repairs.”

Read more in Saturday’s editions of The Post and Courier. Follow David Slade on Twitter @DSladeNews.