A Russian trawler capsized at a pier in Tromsø late Thursday morning after first catching fire on Wednesday and burning through the night. The drama forced local evacuations, caused major problems for Northern Norway’s biggest hospital nearby and set off fears of both an explosion and oil spills.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK), which followed the drama closely, reported that around 200,000 liters of diesel were on board the trawler Bukhta Naezdnik when it finally capsized and sank around 11am. “The boat is now lying stable on the seafloor,” Tromsø police chief Ole Sæverud told reporters shortly before noon on Thursday. “There’s less smoke from the vessel now, but there’s pollution danger from the marine diesel on board.”
Coast guard and other emergency vessels and crews were standing by and set out special equipment to contain any spills. Officials remained worried that an ammonia tank on board the vessel could explode but police later said the danger was reduced because the vessel was now “being cooled down.”
Heavy smoke billowed out of the stricken vessel for many hours, endangering local residents. Roads were closed all around the vessel, which was berthed close to the hospital and the mouth of the tunnel connecting the island on which Tromsø is located to the mainland. That made it impossible for employees at the nearby University Hospital of Northern Norway to get to work, and traffic backed up for miles on both sides of the fjord.
The hospital itself also had to suspend all operations when it had to turn off ventilation systems in some areas of the sprawling hospital complex and high-rise. They were only allowed to be turned back on when tests concluded that the smoke was not poisonous, only “uncomfortable” for hospital staff and patients.
Firefighters said the trawler caught fire during some welding work and it spread to fishing nets on board. An investigation was launched that will also involve Russian authorities. NRK reported that the 64-meter-long vessel was built in Norway in 1991 and is owned by a shipowning firm in Murmansk. All crew members were accounted for and there were no casualties.