Grande Europa master and officers appear in court
Bail was granted by a Spanish court in Valencia this week for the master and two officers of the Grimaldi Group’s 1998-built Grande Europa con-ro ship that suffered a major fire 25nm off Palma de Majorca en route from Salerno to Valencia in May, Nautilus International has reported.
The three were charged with arson after Spanish authorities investigating the fire suggested that it may have been started deliberately. All three officers strongly deny the accusation of setting off two fires on the ship on 15 May. Bail was set at €9,000 for the master and €5,000 each for the other two officers, one of them a third officer.
Immediately after the fire, the Naples-based Grimaldi Group issued a statement and said the major blaze on the ship was likely to have been caused by batteries in two new cars onboard, fuelling concerns over the risks posed by cargoes of hybrid and electric vehicles. It said preliminary 'investigations suggest that the two fires started from two different new vehicles stowed on board, and then spread to the other nearby units.' The statement specified that they were co-operating with the investigations.
In addition to the Grande Europa case, fires on two other Grimaldi vessels in the last eight months – Cruise Ausonia and Grande America – are still under investigation. The Grimaldi Group said it was launching an appeal to 'introduce more stringent controls and regulations on cargo sea transport, not only for rolling units but also for containers.' Notably, with reference to rolling freight, the Grimaldi Group requests that there be more controls on car batteries, which often cause short-circuits on board vessels, as well as in port terminals. Moreover, it calls for the total prohibition of the presence of personal effects in second-hand vehicles, embarked on ro/ro vessels.
In the statement, Grimaldi said the alarm was given by the crew at 00:45 due to a fire on deck 3, which was completely extinguished by the crew itself after about 45 minutes. At 04:00 a second fire was located on deck 8, which spread to deck 9; also here, the crew promptly intervened with the firefighting equipment on board.
The three officers were arrested in mid-June when Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported, prosecutors in Spain were considering the possibility that the fires could have been set in order to get insurance payouts.