Saturday, October 23, 1999

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
One of the crew members makes his way to a
decontamination unit after the explosion. A fire
official said ammonia can be fatal if inhaled
or absorbed through the skin.

Ammonia blast
injures 9 men

Yesterday's tank explosion
could have been worse if not for
the quick response of a nearby firm

By Rod Ohira


Pacific Environmental Corp. is in the business of handling hazardous-material spills, but usually it has to wait for a call.

Yesterday's ammonia tank explosion at Pier 13, though, occurred close enough that the company could offer quick assistance and prevent a serious problem from getting worse.

The fishing vessel Icy Point was docked at the pier to take on ice and fuel when one of its 150-pound cylindrical ammonia tanks exploded, said Scott Villamont, president of American Marine Services, which includes Pacific Environmental Corp.

"It sounded like dynamite detonation," Villamont said.

"By coincidence, we do hazardous-material response, so we responded immediately.

"Our people went in, grabbed two people from the water and gave them first aid. At the request of the Icy Point's captain, our people put on their HazMat (hazardous materials) equipment, went aboard the boat and shut down the engine."

By George F. Lee, Star-Bulletin
The explosion yesterday at Pier 13 of an ammonia tank
aboard the Icy Point, a fishing boat out of San Francisco,
led to the hospitalization of some crew members.

The two crewmen pulled from Honolulu Harbor were suffering from facial burns, bruises to the body and inhalation trauma, according to Villamont.

"We do a fair amount of ammonia hazardous handling," Villamont said. "It's a very serious thing. There's nothing more serious than venting ammonia gas."

The two crewmen were listed last night in critical and guarded condition at Queen's Hospital. Both were in guarded condition this morning.

Seven other men who came in contact with leaking ammonia were washed off at the scene and taken to Straub and Kuakini hospitals.

The three men at Kuakini were treated and released, while the four at Straub were in good condition.

Ammonia can be fatal if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Robert Butchart.

The force of the explosion, which occurred about 4:43 p.m., blew a second 150-pound ammonia cylinder onto the dock, in addition to knocking the two crew members into the harbor.

"It hit on the valve cover but didn't cause a leak," Butchart said of the second tank.

The explosion was heard around the downtown area and interrupted the busy Friday afternoon commute of downtown workers on Nimitz Highway.

"It was big," Tim Nachreiner said, describing the sound of the explosion.

Nachreiner was at the top of Aloha Tower looking down at the cruise ship Norwegian Wind, parked across the harbor from the Icy Point, when he heard the explosion.

"I heard this bang and saw a huge blueish-whitish mushroom cloud coming up," Nachreiner said. "I could see a lot of people running around the boat."

Coast Guard marine safety personnel are investigating the incident.

Star-Bulletin writer Rick Daysog contributed to this report.

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