Four crew members killed and 25 intoxicated including rescue workers was the final toll of an ammoniac escape/explosion on board a Korean jigger moored at the port of Montevideo.
Bang Joo 7 (Sea World 101) called in Montevideo last Tuesday to unload frozen squid, acquire supplies and was scheduled to leave for the South Atlantic Thursday. The ammoniac gas escape and explosion occurred mid afternoon Wednesday when the vessel was preparing to leave Thursday and several of the 35 crew members (11) were ashore. Firemen, port personnel and Coast Guard members helped combat the flames and rescue crew members, but the toxicity of ammoniac gas (used for refrigeration purposes) left its toll. Finally four crew members were found dead in the engine room another 16 were severely intoxicated as well as 9 rescue workers, most of which remain in intensive care units in different Montevideo hospitals. Uruguay's Fire Department spokesperson Carlos Nicola said the origin of the fire has not been determined and was possibly an explosion but "our immediate task was to rescue the crew and later we'll determine the origin of the accident". "Ammoniac gas is highly toxic and exposure must be limited to a minimum because consequences are lethal", added Nicola. A security area has been established around Bang Joo 7 and dock 10 where she is moored has been cleared of all other vessels. If there are risks of further escapes or explosions the vessel "will be tugged out to the bay", said Alberto Diaz head of Prevention Policies Department from the Port of Montevideo authorities. A criminal investigation into the incident has begun under magistrate Daniel Tapié who a few hours later were at the scene of the accident with two coroners. The port of Montevideo suffered a similar tragic accident in May 2004 when an ammoniac gas tank went off on board the Korean fishing vessel Sung Kyung 2001. Over 70 people were intoxicated and a toxic cloud covering almost a square kilometre forced the evacuation of buildings surrounding the port area.The wind finally helped to restore some normality to the area.