It’s been exactly a year since the MV MSC Flaminia German container ship caught fire, claiming the lives of three crew members and forcing other seafarers and passengers to abandon ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, roughly 1,000 miles away from land. Last month, the vessel entered the Port of Constanza in Romania for repairs and further investigation into the accident, but nothing can ever undo the damage caused by the fire to crew members and their loved ones.
Built in 2001, the 984.2-foot, 75,590- GT container ship, owned by Conti Reederei and managed by NSB Niederelbe, was chartered to Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) for 16 years. The vessel was sailing to Antwerp, Belgium from Charleston, South Carolina on July 14, 2012 when tragedy stuck. At around 5 a.m., a fire broke out in hold 4, causing a massive explosion that forced crew members and passengers to abandon ship.
U.K. Coast Guards received a distress signal and alerted nearby vessels to come to the aid of the MSC Flaminia immediately. The German oil tanker DS Crown was the first vessel to arrive at the scene of the accident. Ship authorities were able to rescue those onboard the MSC Flaminia, 22 seafarers and two passengers, who were fleeing the scene on a lifeboat and life raft.
Two seafarers sustained injuries and three crew members were killed as a result of the explosion, including First Officer Cezary Siuta, represented by our maritime law firm, who died on the DS Crown from serious burns, Oiler Rolando Gatiera, who died at a hospital in Portugal on October 8 from severe burn wounds, and Seaman Ramon Parcon, whose body was never recovered as is presumed dead.
Johnny Rosen, one of the two passengers onboard the ill-fated container ship, recounted his experience of the horrific MSC Flaminia fire accident, explaining everything was going fine up until the fire broke out. Rosen was in his cabin, located portside forward, one deck below the bridge, when he saw smoke emanating from the containers on hold 4 around 5 a.m. Immediately after the fire broke out, First Officer Suita alerted everyone onboard to their emergency muster stations. Three hours later, the explosion occurred, which Rosen described as sounding like a “500 pound bomb on a battlefield.”
The deceased, First Officer Siuta, Seaman Parcon and Gatiera fought the fire, along with Bosun Arnold Nisperos and Seaman Erdito Banate.
At around 10 a.m., Rosen says the starboard lifeboat was launched. Officers decided not t launch the port side lifeboat after containers that had flown off the vessel were spotted in the waters. The lifeboat was taken as close to the ship as possible so officers Thiele Holger and Oiler Bonifacio Bancale could search for Suita and Parcon, who were still onboard. Only Suita was found and he was placed on a life raft after being badly burned. Parcon was believed to have gone over the side of the ship from the force of the explosion.
The victims were then left to toss around in the flimsy lifeboat and life raft until the DS Crown arrived.
Efforts to save Suita were futile, as the fire left extensive burns on his lips, lungs and mouth, which prevented him from inhaling oxygen DS Crown paramedics were trying to give him. He was taken to the ship’s hospital, but did not survive his injuries.
A haunted Rosen says Siuta’s last words were “I’m dying.”
Sometime later, another vessel, the MSC Stella, arrived to transport Nisperos, Gatiera and Banate to a hospital in Portugal, where they spent two months in the burn unit recovering. Sadly, Gatiera did not make it and died at the hospital.
The fire was eventually put out and the defunct container ship was towed to the port of Wilhelmshaven in Germany and eventually to the Port of Constanza. Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the fire one year later, but many suspect mis-declared cargo was to blame.
Cargo ships often transport containers with flammable contents on deck to preserve the safety of those onboard, but if there is a prom with the cargo manifest and a container is either incorrect reported or purposely falsified, it might be stored inside the ship’s cargo holds, leading to potentially life-threatening accidents.
If investigations find that mis-declared cargo or any other act of negligence was the cause of the Flaminia fire, both MSC and NSB may be held responsible for the accident and may be forced to pay damages to victims. The safety of cargo vessel crews and passengers is protected under maritime law, and anytime a shipping company or vessel operator commits a safety violation, victims may be entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering and families of those who are fatally wounded may also be eligible to obtain damages for the wrongful death of their loved one. Our maritime law firm already represents First Officer Siuta, but any other seafarer or passenger involved in the MSC Flaminia fire accident has a right to seek legal counsel and file a personal injury claim to protect their rights.