Nine remain in hospital after toxic fumes from vessel trigger emergency

Thu, Dec 6, 2012, 00:00

Nine people were still under observation in hospital in the North yesterday after inhaling toxic fumes leaked from a Co Wicklow cargo vessel docked at Warrenpoint harbour.

Crew members of the dry-cargo vessel Arklow Meadow and harbour staff at Warrenpoint, Co Down, were treated at the scene after a pesticide on board the ship vaporised, emitting harmful gases.

Nine of the 18 casualties were brought to Daisy Hill hospital in Newry, which implemented its major incident plan. A spokeswoman yesterday said it was not possible to give a condition report on the patients as they were “still being monitored”.

Exclusion zone

At the height of the alert, residents were evacuated and a 50m exclusion zone around the vessel was extended, but these measures were later stood down. Louth County Council also put in place emergency measures in case the fumes drifted across Carlingford Lough into the Republic.

SDLP South Down MLA Karen McKevitt was one of those evacuated. “My constituency office is just opposite the harbour,” she said. “At first we were just told to keep all doors and windows shut, but then the PSNI came and told us to leave the building.

“Newry and Mourne Council had implemented its emergency plan and made the town hall available. I was very impressed by the response from all the authorities. There was also a lot of co-operation with Louth County Council and this was a very good example of how things can work . . . It was scary stuff for a while . . . but thankfully, all the indications are that it could have been a lot worse.”

The Arklow Meadow, owned by Arklow Shipping Ltd, was carrying grain and the pesticide aluminium phosphide (AIP), which is used to kill small rodents in grain storage.

Damp pesticide

Some pesticide had become wet, causing potentially lethal fumes to be released.

According to Warrenpoint Harbour Authority, the crew was immediately evacuated and the harbour’s emergency plan put into action. A statement from the authority said the grain was being discharged yesterday morning when “staff noticed that several small packages of pesticide had started to vaporise . . . The emergency services were on site within minutes . . . A full investigation is under way.”

Arklow Shipping Ltd declined to comment.