Uruguayan fire brigades finally managed Sunday afternoon to control and extinguish the fire that broke out in a Korean fishing vessel early Saturday morning which was fully loaded with fuel and ready to depart for Antarctica, reported the Uruguayan Navy PR department.
Two crewmembers from the Jungwoo III remain disappeared while two have been hospitalized with severe burn injuries and two others are expected to be discharged in the next 48 hours. However at last moment there were indications that the remains of the disappeared could have been found among the ashes in a cabin next to the engine room, where the fire started.
The Jungwoo III has a crew of 41, all Asians, and was preparing to depart Sunday midday after having loaded 300.000 litres of fuel. But at 04:15 Saturday fire broke out and rapidly spread to the whole vessel forcing the evacuation of the crew. Six were sent to hospital.
Immediately after the fire erupted a Montevideo port pulled the Jungwoo III 400 metres out into the bay fearing a major catastrophe because of the full fuel load.
“That way we avoided the fire from spreading to other vessels docked in the fishing wharf”, said Capital Sergio Bique, the Uruguayan Navy spokesperson.
“Our main problem was that she was fully loaded with fuel; if the flames had reached the ammoniac deposits that Korean vessels carry for refrigeration, it would have been a time bomb”, added Biqué.
The operation involved the Navy, Coast, Guard, Fire Department and the Montevideo Port authority. An investigation has been opened to determine what effectively happened and why the fire spread so fast. Divers are currently helping to empty the tons of water used to extinguish the fire and cool the vessel.
Jungwoo III is the sister vessel of Jungwoo II which last January suffered a similar fire accident but in the Ross Sea killing three members of the crew and leaving two with serious burn injuries. The 51 metres vessel carrying 40 crew members was about 2000 nautical miles south east of New Zealand and about 600km north of McMurdo Station.
The Jungwoo II distress call was picked up by the Jungwoo III and the Hong Jin 707, which helped to evacuate the crew.
According to Australian records the Jungwoo II is owned by the Sunwoo Corporation and is licensed to fish for Chilean sea bass, crab and other bottom-dwelling fish. The ship was built in Japan in 1985 and is registered in Busan, South Korea.