Lymington Harbour Commissioners defend boat fire operation after ‘pollution’ criticism
A JOINT operation to tackle a catastrophic boat fire has been defended by Lymington Harbour Commissioners after claims the wreck was “abandoned” for two days.
As reported, the boat burst into flames in Lymington River on 22nd October, and the two passengers aboard were rescued by a passing fishing vessel.
Dramatic photos and video captured the scene as huge flames and black smoke engulfed the Axopar 28, which was reportedly less than two years old.
Lymington RNLI and the harbour master were involved in putting out the blaze, along with firefighters, as a coastguard helicopter from Lee-on-Solent hovered above the burning burnt.
However, assessments that the rescue reached a satisfactory conclusion were questioned by one critic, who claimed the hull of the burnt out powerboat was ‘dumped’ by Lymington slipway for almost two days, endangering wildlife and polluting the river.
In a letter to the A&T, the local resident said: ”How was leaving a polluting hulk on the shore of a part of the river that is home to many bird species and a rich variety of marine life a satisfactory conclusion? It was a disgrace to leave it there for almost two days.”
“Why wasn’t the wreck taken somewhere it could be taken out of the water and the pollution risk properly contained?”
Addressing the criticism at a Harbour Commissioners meeting on Monday, Lymington Harbour Master Ryan Willegers praised the staff involved in the rescue and said he stood by comments that the joint operation was a success.
Mr Willegers said the vessel concerned had burnt out by the time the fire was under control and was beached in the shallows of an environmentally sensitive area of mudflat.
He continued: “The vessel freeboard was very low and it was a borderline decision whether it could be safely towed back to shore in order to avoid a much greater recovery operation and risk of damaging the protected mudflat.
“Although the decision was made to tow, there was nowhere to properly secure lines to, so this made towage very difficult. It was not a practical or safe proposition to tow the hulk to marina lifting equipment.”
Mr Willeger’s said: “There was also a concern about whether the hull’s integrity was sufficient to be lifted, something that could be more easily assessed in the dry dock area than in the water at a marina hoist dock where it would also be blocking other operations until the assessment could be made.”
Pointing out that the vessel was still smouldering as the tow took place, Mr Willegers said it was “beached” next to the slipway as it made it easier to contain the “minimal” pollution risk and allow the fire engines to park adjacent to the wreck so they could continue dampening it down.
Addressing claims that fuel was left to spill into the river, Mr Willegers said: “The fuel was classified as a group-one product meaning that it will have naturally evaporated within a few hours of it escaping to the surface. At no point was detergent used as suggested.”
The meeting heard that the day after the rescue, harbour staff re-floated the hull and pumped out the fuel tank which contained around six gallons of water and a couple of teaspoons of residual fuel. He said: “Once the hull was refloated the already minimal pollution risk was contained. Under all the circumstances the dock was the right place to stow the boat pending recovery.”
Pointing out the Environment Agency were updated throughout the incident, Mr Willegers concluded: “The boat’s insurers were responsible for making arrangements for salvage, and they did so efficiently through the hire of a suitable crane and vehicle to take the wreck away a few days later. By normal salvage operations, this was a very quick response.”