By Michelle Watson, Eric Levenson, Melissa Alonso and Zenebou Sylla, CNN
(CNN) — The New Jersey cargo ship fire that killed two firefighters at Port Newark has been contained to one section of the vessel as firefighters continue to battle the blaze Saturday.
As of Saturday afternoon, the US Coast Guard said they “made considerable progress overnight,” containing the fire on vessel’s 11th deck so that it is “no longer spreading to other areas of the vessel,” according to an update from the agency.
“There is still significant work to do, and challenges ahead as we get closer to an end state, but the ability for agencies at all levels to work together in our response is a testament to our shared commitment and singular vision to ensuring the responders, the community, and the port remains safe,” Captain Zeita Merchant, who directs Coast Guard missions at the Port of New York and New Jersey, said in a statement.
The fire, which ignited late Wednesday and injured six other firefighters, was expected to “burn for a couple more days” on the nearly 700-foot-long Grande Costa D’Avorio cargo ship, according to Tom Wiker of Gallagher Marine Systems, the representative for the ship operator. The blaze was still burning on the ship’s top decks Friday, he said.
The company, along with the US Coast Guard, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Newark Fire Department, is working to put out the flames, according to a joint news release Thursday.
Authorities identified the Newark firefighters who died as Augusto Acabou, 45, and Wayne Brooks Jr., 49.
Newark Public Safety Director Fritz Fragé said Saturday that two Newark fire fighter captains who were injured while battling the fire have been released the from the hospital.
Firefighters made mayday calls they were lost in ship blaze
Firefighters responded to a call of multiple vehicles on fire on a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship around 9:25 p.m. ET Wednesday, the US Coast Guard said in a statement.
Firefighters boarded the ship and went to the 10th or 11th floor to extinguish the flames. Two members then made mayday calls reporting they were lost within the fire, Newark Fire Chief Rufus Jackson said Thursday.
“Members made an attempt to extinguish the fire but got pushed back by the intense heat. Two firefighters were lost while conducting this action of backing out of the structure,” Jackson said overnight.
In addition to the deaths of Acabou and Brooks Jr., three Newark firefighters and two firefighters from other departments suffered burns, heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. A sixth firefighter with unspecified injuries was also hurt, authorities said late Thursday.
The vessel was completing cargo operations of loading automobiles when the fire started, according to the Coast Guard. The vessel’s crew activated on-board fire suppression procedures as local firefighters were alerted, the release said.
Officials worry about air quality and are monitoring ship’s leaning to the side
Air monitoring specialists continue to monitor air quality on the ship and in surrounding areas and have found no hazardous air quality levels since monitoring began Thursday night at 9 pm ET.
The Coast Guard determined there has been no oil pollution from the fire. City officials collected water samples from the affected area Friday and expect test results from the samples to be returned in the next few days. There is also no visible pollution or sheen on the water surrounding the cargo ship, but USCG notes that the water is discolored due to the soot produced from the fire.
The ship was stable on Friday but tipping to the right, said Gordon Lorenson of Donjon Marine Co., a salvage company working with authorities. He said authorities will continue to monitor its stability and have plans to mitigate further leaning if necessary.
Firefighters encountered challenges putting out blaze
The water hoses used to fight the fatal fire were not nearly large enough to handle the volume of water needed to fight the blaze, Anthony Tarantino, president of the Newark Fire Officers Union, told NJ.com.
According to Tarantino, the main issue was getting enough water on the fire.
The hoses available were only 1 inch in diameter, which are suitable for putting out dumpster fires in the industrial port. This fire needed hoses more than double that, he said.
“The Newark Fire Department is one of the best fire departments in the country,” Tarantino said. “We are capable of handling any fire, but the combination of fighting a fire in the equivalent of a 12-story building on a ship with 1-inch diameter hose, which does not provide the protection, reach and ability to put out the volume of fire, caused the deaths of our brave brothers,” he said.
CNN has reached out to the Newark Fire Officers Union for a statement.
Jackson noted the setting of the fire was also a challenge. Fighting a fire on a ship is different from fighting a land-based fire, the fire chief said.
The department trained at some point in the past on how to fight fires aboard a vessel with living quarters, but not on a cargo ship full of vehicles, he said.
Late firefighters remembered for love of helping others
Acabou and Brooks Jr. were remembered Friday by friends and family as dedicated members of the department who helped others.
Acabou’s friend, Eddie Paulo, described him as a family man who “was tough as nails,” “sweet beyond belief” and “all about the family.”
“You can find him at any family cookout, any family affair, he would do anything he could to attend,” Paulo said.
Acabou’s cousin, Carlos Henriques, said it wasn’t until this week that he learned Acabou maintained a special bond with his assistant high school football coach who was battling cancer, for whom he ran errands and provided support during his treatments.
“Everything he did was about helping others and going above and beyond for those in need,” Henriques said. “He was (the) kind of person who treated you like family.”
Rodger Terry, Brooks’ uncle, described his nephew as “a real-life Superman.”
“He could’ve had any job he wanted in this region, but he picked being a firefighter because he liked working with people and helping people,” Terry said.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement grieving the deaths.
“This tragedy is a painful reminder of the dangers our firefighters face and their remarkable courage,” he said.
Incidents in which multiple firefighters die are relatively rare. Six incidents with multiple fatalities occurred last year, including in January 2022, when a blazing building partially collapsed and three firefighters died.
The Grande Costa D’Avorio was built in 2011 and sails under the flag of Italy, according to online records. The massive vessel was carrying about 5,000 vehicles at the time of the fire, according to Newark Mayor Ras Baraka.
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CNN’s Kristina Sgueglia, Amanda Jackson, Ashley R. Williams, Artemis Moshtaghian, and Zoe Sottile contributed to this report.