Chemicals spark port evacuation

A shipment of wheat onboard the Poavosa Wisdom is on fire.
A shipment of wheat onboard the Poavosa Wisdom is on fire.

Smoke that sparked an evacuation at Port Taranaki this afternoon was caused by a chemical reaction, not fire.

Fire fighters were evacuated from a ship at Port Taranaki after hazardous chemicals were found.

Harbour master John Ireland said there was no fire.

Port Taranaki was evacuated after clouds of smoke were seen coming from the ship the Poavosa Wisdom.

Smoke could be seen coming from the bow of the ship which arrived from Victoria today carrying a load of wheat.

NZ fire service central communications shift manager Mike Wanoa said 209 litres of an unidentified hazardous chemical were found and all emergency personnel had been withdrawn from the port.

He said technical liasion officers with "level three suits" would be entering the ship to determine what the chemical was.

Fire fighters had earlier been lowered into the hold of the ship.

Wanoa said the incident had reached a third alarm level and there were eight fire trucks at the scene and 30-40 fire staff were attending.

The Poavosa Wisdom is berthed at the Moturoa wharf and its 21 crew members have been evacuated from the ship.

Nearby homes may be evacuated if the smoke increases or the wind changes direction.

Five other ships are in port.

New Plymouth fire brigades were alerted by port security about 1pm.