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Huge fireball erupts on fuel barge in Vanuatu bay | Vanuatu

A massive fireball has erupted after a fuel transport barge caught fire in a pristine bay on a remote Vanuatu island, injuring at least three people.

The Western Star, a barge fitted out to carry fuel and cargo, burst into flames at South West Bay on Malekula, Vanuatu’s second largest island, on Wednesday.

Vanuatu maritime safety commissioner John Less Naupati said that two maritime workers were injured, with one crewman being airlifted to hospital. There were no known fatalities.

Smoke and flames come from a blue ship near a shoreline with mangroves
The vessel was believed to be delivering fuel when it caught fire. Photograph: Brada Bai Ret

The vessel was believed to have arrived at South West Bay to unload fuel. The Western Star is owned by Solomon Islands shipping company Silentworld. Pacific Energy contracted the company, which also owns two other vessels, to supply petroleum and diesel to Vanuatu’s islands.

A spokesperson for Silentworld said a tugboat with a containment boom had arrived at the scene on Thursday morning, but early reports suggested that the ship’s hull was intact and there had been no diesel spill.

Locals look on as thick black smoke billows from the ship
Locals look on as thick black smoke billows from the ship. Photograph: Brada Bai Ret

“All precautions are being taken and we are working closely with the office of the maritime regulator,” he said.

Authorities in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, scrambled to get response crews to the island, with a shortage of aircraft meaning emergency assessors did not reach the island until Wednesday afternoon. Fisheries and environment officials were expected to arrive Thursday morning.

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