Release of phosphine gas during discharge of fumigated maize cargo from general cargo vessel Arklow Meadow

Location: Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland.

Accident Investigation Report 21/2013

Read our marine accident investigation report, which includes what happened, actions taken, and recommendations:

ArklowMeadowReport.pdf (1,468.14 kb)

Annexes (5,093.53 kb)


On 5 December 2012, a fumigated cargo of maize was being discharged from the general cargo vessel Arklow Meadow in Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. The fumigant was still active; the fumigant retainers that had been removed from the cargo holds started to smoke. Cargo operations were immediately stopped and the ship’s crew evacuated to the quayside. The local fire brigade, who were quickly on the scene, established a 50 metre cordon around the vessel. Houses and retail premises surrounding the port area were also evacuated by the police as a precautionary measure.

Eight crew and a stevedore were taken to hospital for observation and decontamination.

Recovered retainers were neutralised by immersing them in water and it took 5 days for the level of phosphine gas in the vessel’s cargo holds to reduce to a safe level.

Safety Issues

  • the fumigant compound (aluminium phosphide) had probably remained active due to its tight packaging and the relatively low humidity in the cargo holds during the vessel’s voyage from the Ukraine
  • although the levels of phosphine gas in the atmosphere at the tops of the cargo holds had been assessed to have been safe, the fumigant retainers were not removed from on top of the maize cargo before cargo operations were started
  • onboard procedures for the carriage of fumigated cargoes were scant and the instructions provided by the fumigator in the Ukraine were not followed
  • although Warrenpoint Harbour Authority reacted quickly, the port had not developed procedures or emergency plans dealing specifically with the potential hazards associated with fumigants


A recommendation (2013/225) has been made to the Maritime and Coastguard Agency aimed at improving the guidance available regarding the carriage of fumigated cargoes. A recommendation (2013/226) has also been made to the British Ports Association and the United Kingdom Major Ports Group to help ensure that all UK ports have procedures and emergency plans in place when dealing with fumigated cargoes.

This report was published on 3 October 2013.

Published 23 January 2015