The Canadian Press
Sixteen crew members on a foreign grain freighter were taken to Ontario hospitals early Wednesday after a phosphine gas leak made them violently ill.
The Hermann Schoening, a German ship, was on its way to Montreal and near Port Colborne, Ont., on Lake Erie, when 16 of the ship’s 21 Chinese crew members became sick.
They were vomiting violently, had extreme diarrhea, severe headaches and dizziness and were unable to stand on their own, said Chief Tom Cartwright of the Port Colborne fire department.
“Quite frankly, if we hadn’t acted on it, because of the type of leak it was, we probably would have had fatalities on board the ship,” Cartwright said.
The ship was fumigated in Milwaukee, Wis., and a fumigant used on the grain contained phosphine gas and leaked into the crew’s quarters, Cartwright said. There has been no word yet from hospitals on the condition of the crew.
5 other shipmates stayed
The five crew members, including the captain, who did not fall ill remained on the ship. The source of the leak was found overnight and a temporary fix was put in place so those five people could stay aboard safely, Cartwright said.
The process of getting the sick crew members to hospital was a long one, beginning Tuesday afternoon and stretching into the early morning Wednesday.
Health Canada, Transport Canada, a shipping company agency and local emergency services had conference calls through the evening. A chemist was flown in from Montreal and a hazmat team was put on standby, Cartwright said.
When he arrived, the chemist quickly confirmed they were dealing with phosphine gas. Tugboats made their way to the ship, anchored 3.7 nautical miles off the shoreline of Port Colborne, to bring the crew to hospital.
That process of lowering the ill crew members over the side of the ship, helping them down a rope ladder onto the tugboats, then making their way back to shore took about an hour, ending at 3:30 a.m., Cartwright said.