Explosion at Dubai’s Jebel Ali port after ship catches fire

Plumes of smoke rise from a container ship anchored in Dubai's Jebel Ali port. Source: Online

DUBAI: A container ship anchored at Dubai’s port caught fire late on Wednesday, causing a huge explosion that sent tremors across the commercial hub.

The blaze sent up giant orange flames on a vessel at the crucial Jebel Ali port, the busiest in the Middle East, and unleashed a shock wave through the city. Panicked residents filmed from their high-rises as a fiery ball illuminated the night sky. The blast was powerful enough to be seen from space by satellite.

There were no immediate reports of casualties at the port. Two and a half hours after the explosion, Dubai’s civil defence teams said they had brought the fire under control and started the “cooling process.”

Authorities posted footage on social media of firefighters dousing giant shipping containers. The glow of the blaze remained visible in the background. The extent of the damage caused by the explosion to the port and surrounding cargo was not immediately clear.

Footage shared on social media of the aftermath showed charred containers, ashes and littered debris. The sheer force and visibility of the blast suggested the presence of a highly combustible substance.

The government’s Dubai Media Office (DMO) said the fire had been brought under control. The explosion was a “normal accident” in a container holding flammable material, DMO Director General Mona Al Marri said.

Witnesses in residential areas between 15 km and 22 km from Jebel Ali had heard the blast. Authorities did not identify the stricken ship beyond saying it was a small vessel with a capacity of 130 containers.

The DMO said in a statement that there were no casualties or injuries. It posted footage of water being pumped to douse flames and debris at the scene.

Jebel Ali is one of the largest ports in the world and the largest in the Middle East. It serves cargo from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Asia. Operated by DP World, it has four sprawling container terminals that can berth some of the world’s largest ships. Jebel Ali port handled 13.5 million shipping containers in 2020, down 4.4% year-on-year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.