Emergency workers had contained a fatal fire aboard a cargo ship at Port Newark, N.J., to its 11th deck and had reduced the risk that it could capsize, officials said on Sunday.
The fire on the Italian cargo ship the Grande Costa d’Avorio continued to burn but was no longer spreading, according to the U.S. Coast Guard, which has taken over control of the firefighting operation.
“Even though the progress made on fire suppression on the vessel is a significant victory, we will continue to deploy air and water monitoring resources,” said Kevin S. Perry, vice president of emergency response at Gallagher Marine Systems, a company hired by the vessel’s owner to oversee the recovery effort.
Firefighters and other responders had been scrambling to contain the fire from outside the ship and to cool it down without filling the vessel. Too much water risked capsizing the ship into a channel that flows into Newark Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The vessel is carrying 1,200 vehicles, many of them at least partly filled with gasoline and oil. Keeping it from capsizing is a critical goal of emergency workers trying to prevent an environmental disaster in the most populated region of the country.
On Saturday, officials said responders were draining water from the lower decks of the vessel, helping it to stabilize.
The vessel would continue to list slightly “as a way to accelerate the dewatering process,” the Coast Guard said in a statement.
“The listing is being done purposely to help drain water from lower levels,” said Petty Officer Logan Kaczmarek, a spokesman for the Coast Guard. “There are currently no concerns about capsizing.”
Officials with the Coast Guard and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns and operates the 272-acre port, have said it would be impossible to predict how long the fire might burn.
The fire erupted just before 9:30 p.m. Wednesday on the ship’s 10th deck and spread quickly to two upper decks. Two Newark firefighters, Augusto Acabou, 45, and Wayne Brooks Jr., 49, died trying to knock the blaze down. Funeral services for the men will be this week at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark.
The ship’s cargo includes used and new cars, vans and trucks packed tightly on 12 decks. Officials have been fearful that plumes of toxins belching into the air for days could affect air quality in a city that is already home to three pollutant-emitting power plants, a garbage incinerator and a sewage treatment plant.
Environmental groups said they worried that the ship fire, which erupted just a few weeks after smoke from Canadian wildfires contributed to the worst air-quality readings ever recorded in New York City, would lead to an uptick in asthma attacks, allergic reactions and eye irritation.
Specialists contracted by Gallagher Marine Systems are performing air monitoring around the vessel and the surrounding areas, the Coast Guard said in its statement. On Sunday, the Coast Guard said that visible haze and smoke had diminished.
Monitoring began on Wednesday night, and since then “no detections above hazardous levels in the surrounding areas have been observed,” the Coast Guard said. Residents worried about air quality can look for updates online, the agency said.
“There is no visible pollution or sheen in the water,” the agency said. “But it is discolored from soot.”