'Black ship' back home under tow

The fire-damaged Amaltal Columbia has arrived at Port Nelson after being towed from Lyttelton by its smaller sister ship, Amaltal Mariner.

Talley’s Group Nelson chief executive Tony Hazlett said the tow began at 2pm on Saturday and had gone smoothly, with the two ships arriving in Tasman Bay at about 5am to await the high tide before entering the port. It will tie up at the Amaltal wharf just to the north of the marina.

Mr Hazlett said the Columbia would be classed as a ‘‘black ship’’ for at least four days while specialists made sure that there was no further risk of fire or any other danger on board.

Until then it would be in ‘‘total lockdown’’.

‘‘We’re going to spend a week stripping her out and then we’re going to figure out the rebuild,’’ he said.

Mr Hazlett has earlier said that he hoped the Columbia could be back fishing within four or five months, and that the two crews would retain their jobs.

The ship was the subject of a dramatic rescue at sea on Wednesday morning after fire broke out in the fishmeal hold area and couldn’t be put out by the crew.  The 43 on board were all rescued unharmed, apart from minor smoke inhalation, after the captain gave the order to abandon ship.

It was towed the 75 kilometres to Lyttelton by the Sanford trawler San Discovery.

The fire and rescue, hailed as a textbook operation, is being investigated by the Transport Accident Investigation Commission, which says its probe could take 12 months.

Meanwhile, Talley's has told the crew members that were on board and those onshore awaiting crew rotation that their jobs are safe.

On Friday, four workers were hospitalised with suspected gas poisoning after being sent on to the vessel to retrieve the fish, Fairfax reported.

Fire Service assistant area commander Greg Crawford said ammonia, used for refrigeration, started leaking from a pipe believed damaged in the fire about 5am. Firefighters set up fans to keep fresh air flowing through the ship while workers retrieved the fish but the fans had not "kept up". The ship had respirators but the workers were not wearing them, Mr Crawford said.

Two workers were treated by ambulance staff at the scene and then returned to work. However, at 2.30pm St John Ambulance was called again - this time for suspected carbon monoxide poisoning. Four workers, including the original two, were taken to Christchurch Hospital.

Mr Crawford said carbon monoxide pockets in the hold were likely to be a result of the fire, and it was evident more specialised equipment was needed than the Fire Service could supply.

The Nelson Mail