Rat killer blamed for evacuation

The port was closed for nearly five hours

MATT RILKOFF
Last updated 05:00 22/01/2014

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Mishandling of a chemical used to kill rodents is believed to be responsible for the evacuation of Port Taranaki on Monday.

Fire crews were called to the port just after 1pm when "smoke" began pouring from the hull of the wheat-carrying cargo ship Poavosa Wisdom.

However, New Plymouth Fire Service area commander Pat Fitzell said the smoke was actually a chemical reaction after water came into contact with the chemical aluminium phosphide, a commonly used fumigant to kill rodents in stored grains.

"Aluminium phosphide comes in a sausage form and the crew dragged it across the deck and that is when it started fuming. So they put it in a drum in their hold. They must have thought it was on fire and some water was introduced. That's what we believe," Mr Fitzell said.

He understood it was unusual for the cargo ships to carry the chemical on the "high seas".

Firefighters removed the barrel from the ship yesterday, but not before about 120 sailors and port workers were evacuated and the port was closed for nearly five hours.

The barrel is at a three-walled concrete structure on the former power station site and was no longer considered a risk.

Harbour Master John Ireland said an agent of Maritime New Zealand had been on the Poavosa Wisdom yesterday.

"They will be confirming what product was on board, how much was on board and if it has been contained and the third thing is to investigate whether any breaches have been made and whether the chemical should have been on board or not," he said.

A spokesperson for Maritime NZ said they would know if a full investigation into the incident would be required within a few days.

Taranaki Regional Council compliance manager Bruce Pope said the drum of aluminium phosphide remained the responsibility of the port and it would have to work with a waste contractor to prepare a plan to safely dispose of it.

"The plan will need to be approved by the Taranaki District Health Board protection officer, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment who are responsible for hazardous substances, and the TRC who have environmental management responsibilities," he said.

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