ONE dead, one missing after ammunition ship catches fire at Army depot

Sunday, July 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SOUTHPORT, N.C. (AP) _ A civilian crew member was killed and one was missing after an ammunition ship caught fire at an Army terminal on the Cape Fear River.

Teams suspended their search early Sunday for a crew member who was believed to have jumped ship when the fire began. The U.S. Coast Guard was to resume the search at daybreak.

Commander Jim McPherson, a spokesman at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., said the crew member who was killed died in the engine room.

The ship, the SS Edward Carter, is a 939-foot contract vessel that hauls ammunition and other cargo.

A crew of 40 was on board when a fire broke out in the engine room around 4 p.m. Saturday, according to Col. Ron Heiter, commander of Sunny Point Military Ocean Terminal.

``An engine room fire is one of the most dangerous fires you can have on a ship, and then when you combine it with the cargo they were carrying, you have to be careful,'' McPherson said.

The fire was confined to the engine room and was contained by midnight, the Coast Guard said.

The identity of the victim was not immediately released.

A half-mile arc had been cleared around the vessel and no civilians or homes were in danger, Heiter said. The closure effectively shut down river trade, but it was reopened Sunday morning.

A hazardous waste team sprayed foam to try to prevent the fire from reaching the ammunition.

The ship was loading ammunition from another ship when the fire broke out. It was unclear how the fire started.

About 2,300 20-foot containers of ammunition were on board. The ship can carry about 5 million pounds of ammunition and explosives, McPherson said.

Sunny Point handles worldwide shipment of Department of Defense ammunition, explosives and other dangerous cargo. It is the only DOD terminal equipped to handle containerized ammunition.