Stricken Cheshire won’t enter any Canarian port as it is towed towards the peninsula for repairs

Photo: Canary Ports.

Updated 3 September: In the end, the Cheshire will not come into a Canarian port at all. It is being towed to the mainland where it will go into a harbour either in Spain or Portugal for extraction of whatever fertilizer remains in the hold, and repairs of the vessel itself. Owner Bibby Line Ltd says that the decision was taken because there is not a residue treatment plant suitable for the specific task in Canarian ports.

Updated 30 August: Technicians have still not been able to board the Cheshire, and so it remains in “international waters” 25 miles south east of Gran Canaria. When Capitanía Marítima confirms that there’s no longer a danger it is intended to bring it into Puerto de La Luz (Las Palmas) even though that is said to be at bursting point presently. Meanwhile, the Gran Canaria Cabildo is seeking urgent meetings with the President of the Canaries to determine safety issues and responsibilities, but the island authorities are meeting a brick wall, with President Clavijo saying that the matter is effectively nothing to do with the Canarian Government, and that they have no authority in the issue. The Government’s Dirección General de Seguridad y Emergencias has all the same activated its Marine Contamination Protocol as a preventative measure for when the craft comes within the 12 mile limit of Canarian waters.   

Updated 28 August: Resolve Marine technicians tried several times yesterday to board the Cheshire but were unable to do so due to worsening sea conditions: they will be making another attempt today. The above photo shows the present state of the vessel which is currently some 50 miles south east of Gran Canaria; no smoke is visible any more and temperatures in the hold have fallen further from yesterday. Capitanía Marítima (maritime body within the Department of Public Works & Transport) has meanwhile given permission for the Cheshire to be towed to within 20 miles of Gran Canaria. Once the vessel can be boarded, Merchant Navy technicians will evaluate its integrity and determine if it can be allowed to be brought to port.

Updated 27 August: There is now the barest wisp of smoke coming from bay one of the Cheshire’s hold, and Bibby Line says that the temperature has dropped considerably and therefore people should be able to get on board later today to check the situation inside. The ship’s current position is some 60km south of Fuerteventura, where it is being towed by the tug Red Sea Fox supported by the VB Hispania and the Miguel de Cervantes. There are negotiations currently taking place to enable the vessel to be brought into a harbour for cooling work to continue.

Updated 24 August: The ammonium nitrate in three of the five storage bays in the Cheshire’s hold has now burnt off, it appears, with the remaining two expected to burn off over the next few days. At present, the vessel is being towed towards Gran Canaria by four tugs, and is being cooled by them while travelling to avoid the build up of further heat. Technicians have asked for a minimum three-mile exclusion zone around the vessel in case of explosion.

Updated 19 August: As of today, the Cheshire is still adrift now some 80 miles due south of El Hierro, and for the moment, the fire remains out of control and growing. Its cargo, of some 40,000 tons of ammonium nitrate, has now converted the vessel into what Canary Ports has called a gigantic floating bomb which no-one can yet approach. Experts say that the toxic smoke generated in the hold from the burning fertilizer is stopping experts or even tug – and fire-fighting boats approaching the craft, and it is anyway considered unwise to pour water or foam on the smoke since it could cause the ammonium nitrate to explode. Bibby Line, the owner of the ship, says that there have been some explosions inside sections of the hold and the internal temperature could be slightly reduced as a result, and so experts will continue to look at ways to board the vessel.

Graphic: FletMoon

Original post 16 August: As though there weren’t enough to be worried about in the waters around the Canaries, the MV Cheshire, a British boat carrying ammonium nitrate fertilizer, is currently on fire some 60 miles south of Gran Canaria. Despite the president of the Canaries saying yesterday that the boat had already sunk, technicians of the Dutch shipping company under whose flag the craft is sailing have been visiting the site since last night to see what options exist to deal with the blaze. It seems that despite smoke billowing wildly, the flames are contained within the hold where the fertilizer is burning fiercely. Some concern must surely be felt because this is a very explosive cargo, and the highly-soluble chemical is not one we should welcome in any form in the seas around these islands. The boat was transferring the fertilizer from Norway to Thaliand, and had a stop planned at the Canaries for refuelling.


  1. Far from being towed towards Gran Canaria, the diagram shows it being towed away!

    1. Author

      Events have moved on, and that is now an old diagram from earlier in the chain of events. As you can see on the graphic, the last position is the 19th August … it is now the 25th!

  2. The Texas City disaster in 1947 which leveled the port and killed almost 600 was caused by the explosion of approx 2200 tons of ammonium nitrate. Just think what damage 40,000 tons can do. Good that it is drifting away from Gran Canary.

    1. Author

      It’s not drifting away any more! They’re towing it towards the island now. But they are saying that the contents of three out of the five storage areas of the hold have now burnt away and they expect the remaining two to burn away over the next few days.

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