More than 130 people were taken to hospital yesterday and residents were told remain inside after a huge chemical explosion ripped through a KMTC containership at Laem Chabang port in Thailand. Officials believe the blaze started in a box containing the chemical calcium hypochlorite onboard the 21-year-old KMTC Hongkong. The fire quickly spread and forced the port to close three berths. The berth where the fire occurred has sustained significant damage as has the ship, which works on the intra-Asia trades.
Calcium hypochlorite, a disinfecting and bleaching agent with a tendency for self-ignition, has been responsible for many ship fires in recent years including on the boxships Charlotte Maersk, Maersk Seoul, Maersk Londrina, Barzan, Al Ula, Hanjin Green Earth, Cape Moreton and APL Austria, according to the Standard P&I Club.
According to the insurer, this substance is prone to thermal degradation and releases chlorine gas, oxygen and heat as it decomposes. It can undergo decomposition when exposed to temperatures above just 85 degrees Fahrenheit, or when in the presence of impurities like metal powders or certain organic compounds.
“Oxygen will sustain and exacerbate any fire already caused by the decomposition reaction, and gaseous chlorine is toxic via respiration,” Standard wrote in a 2014 circular. In addition, calcium hypochlorite is highly corrosive in the presence of moisture.