The cause of the fire on the Italian ship sailing from a German port is still unclear.
Rabat – A Grimaldi company ship, named Grande America, sailing to the port of Casablanca from Hamburg, Germany, caught fire on Sunday night off the western coast of France.
A frigate of the British Royal Navy and a French rescue ship came to the Italian ship’s rescue soon after it caught fire. The rescuers were able to save all 27 people on board.
The Grande America is a cargo ship built in 1997 sailing under the Italian flag. The ship has a capacity of 56,000 tons and is 214 meters long and 32 meters wide.
The ship’s captain initially planned to move the ship to the Spanish port of A Corunia after reporting the fire to authorities, according to World Maritime News.
However, Grande America was unable to continue its journey because the situation on the ship deteriorated. The fire had spread to several containers.
The British frigate transported the 26 crew members and one passenger safely early today.
France sent a navy helicopter to assess the situation of the distressed ship.
World Maritime News reported today that the fire was still burning and its cause was unknown.
The Grande America has been in the news before. In 2010, Nigeria detained the ship for a week while it was traveling to Lagos from Antwerp. The ship was later released but apparently without authorization. Local authorities launched an investigation into who released the ship.
If a person on board set the fire, it is possible the ship was carrying illegal cargo and the fire was a cover-up.
In 2013, Egyptian and Syrian drug traffickers set fire to their ship carrying more than 30 tons of hashish before being arrested by Italian police in the central Mediterranean.
The Grande America incident was not the first time a cargo ship had trouble on its way to or leaving a Moroccan port. Morocco has had episodes of friction with the Polisario over cargo ships exporting from Western Sahara.
Last year, the Moroccan Cherifien Phosphates Office (OCP) company finally managed to secure its phosphate shipment back from South Africa, where it was detained. Polisario had claimed that the cargo was illegally taken from Western Sahara.
A panel of judges in the High Court in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, had ruled in 2017 that the detention of the Moroccan phosphate shipment was “correct.”