Water cannon aimed at container ship that has been burning for 5 days

The container ship Yantian Express is shown in a handout photo from Hapag-Lloyd. The Canadian Press/HO-Hapag-Lloyd

Two big tugs are making progress fighting a stubborn fire aboard a container ship that has been burning off Canada’s east coast for five days, a spokesman for the German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd said Tuesday.

Tim Seifert said the tugs have been using high-powered fire monitors – a type of water cannon – to douse burning containers on the forward deck of the 320-metre Yantian Express.

The 71-metre Belgian tug Smit Nicobar arrived to offer help on Friday, and the 95-metre Maersk Mobiliser, based in St. John’s, N.L., joined the firefighting on Monday.

“The firefighting operations, under the direction of Smit (and) in co-operation with the local crew and the emergency response team in Hamburg, show continuous progress,” Seifert said in an email.

“The firefighting efforts with the ocean-going tugs are ongoing with highest pressure to limit the damage.”

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READ MORE: Crews attempting to douse blaze on disabled container ship off Nova Scotia

A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard in Portsmouth, Va., confirmed Tuesday that smoke was still pouring from the ship.

The stricken, German-flagged container ship was about 1,300 kilometres from Halifax, its intended destination.

Its entire crew was picked up by the Smit Nicobar on the weekend.

None of them was injured after a fire started inside a container on Thursday, then spread to several other containers.

The ship was travelling to Halifax from Colombo, Sri Lanka, via the Suez Canal.

READ MORE: Tugboat en route to tow burning container ship to Halifax after vessel evacuated

When the wind picked up on Friday, the crew stopped fighting the fire and retreated to safety inside the ship.

Seifert did not provide details about the extent of damage, the cause of the fire or what the ship is carrying.

The company, based in Hamburg, had previously said there were 23 crew members aboard the ship, including eight officers and 15 seafarers.

On Tuesday, Seifert said there were 14 seafarers among a total of 22 crew members, including two from Germany, three from Poland and 17 from the Philippines.

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“The cause of the fire has not yet been clarified,” Seifert said. “At this time, it is not possible to make a precise estimate of any damage to Yantian Express or its cargo … There is currently no estimated time of arrival for Halifax or any other port.”

The U.S. Coast Guard spokesman said the plan is to have the Maersk Mobiliser tow the container ship to Halifax.

Last March, a fire aboard a Maersk Line container ship in the Arabian Sea claimed the lives of five crew members.

The 353-metre Maersk Honam, an ultra-large container ship, caught fire on March 6 en route from Singapore to the Suez Canal. It had 27 crew members aboard.

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