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On 10 January 1977, during loading of the German cargo vessel Burgenstein, a drum containing sodium peroxide was damaged by a fork-lift truck. Part of the content was spilled onto plastic materials on deck and the rain began to fall. The sodium peroxide, which reacted vigorously with the wet plastic sheets, caused a fire that spread rapidly to other spills of peroxide on deck and thereafter to the cargo.

A number of longshoremen managed to escape on a ladder from the burning hold, but three crewmen died in the fire. The fire brigade attempted to control the fire with water and foam but this response caused several blasts that forced the fire fighters to withdraw temporarily.

It was a delicate situation because the presence of cyanides in the cargo that could emit hydrogen cyanide. A large area around the port was declared as a safety zone and people in parts of the city were told to keep doors and windows closed. It took the fire brigade 9 hours to completely extinguish the fire.


  • HELCOM, 2002, HELCOM Response Manual - Volume 2

Name: Burgenstein

Date: 10 January 1977

Location: Germany

Accident location : port of Bremerhaven

Cause of spill : damage to cargo

Type of pollutants : sodium peroxide, sodium cyanide and potassium cyanide

Ship type : cargo vessel

Flag : German


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