Tom approached two divers on the tug’s deck, who were tending the fire hoses leading into the lounge of the casualty, and instructed them to put on their breathing apparatus and take hoses in through the open loading door. He climbed over the Yokohama fender and entered the burning ship with a sense of foreboding, even though there was no fire in the immediate vicinity. The Rada was suddenly fresh in his mind, the burning tween deck full of smoke, the screaming. He made a huge mental effort to break free from the images, free himself from the flashback.
“Come Alfredo,” he said, his voice hoarse, “we must find our way to the fire.”
They made their way forward along an unlit alleyway with a green deck, their torches the only light, until it was blocked by a white, watertight door, tightly closed. Tom was now firmly in the present, Alfredo’s presence a calming influence.
“Ricky,” Tom spoke into his radio, “tell the Seahorse to open the watertight door by the loading area, port side.”
He walked back along the alleyway and across the ship to the starboard side, where there was another watertight door, similarly closed.
As Tom returned, Ricky called over the radio. “You can open it now, cap.”
Tom and Alfredo turned the handle and pushed the door open. The smell of burning lingered and they could see little wisps of smoke.
“We’re on the deck below the galley, Alfredo, there must be a companionway or stairs up somewhere.”
They walked forward and found it. Tom climbed into what he thought was B deck, where the galley was situated, but found it was C deck, hence the lack of smoke, he thought. They needed to climb up another deck. With a little searching in the alleyway, they found their way and Tom could see through the acrid smoke to the red glow before them. The fire crackled as wood burnt and he knew they were being foolish, attempting this without breathing apparatus. Alfredo had started coughing again, so Tom signalled to him, and they returned to the loading door as the two divers climbed on board the casualty in their apparatus, pulling two hoses. Pedro directed the men remaining on the tug to assist the divers.
“Alfredo, you show the divers. Be careful and come back if there is too much smoke for you without breathing apparatus.”
“OK, cap, no problem.”
Eduardo, the stocky diver, gave Tom the thumbs up as he heaved a hose along, two AB’s with towels around their faces following behind. Tom left them to it, crossed the Yokohama fender and returned to his bridge. The fire in the galley seemed much reduced as the firefighters on board fought it, but the accommodation aft was burning strongly, tongues of flame appearing out of the open portholes and licking the paint on the hull, setting that alight, also. Tom was worried about the amount of foam being used. If the foam ran out before the fire was extinguished, they would be in trouble. Water alone would disturb the foam carpet and might cause the area already put out to reignite. On top of that, the list on the Seahorse had increased noticeably. Tom called up the captain on the VHF.
“Are you ballasting, captain?” Tom asked.
“Yes,” came the firm reply.
“Good, your list has increased.”
“I know,” was the curt reply.
“Fire is out in the dining saloon and my firefighters are in the galley but aft of that is all alight. I have men coming from the loading door to attack it from aft as well as forward.”
“Thank you. My crew have let me down.”
“How are the passengers?” asked Tom.
“Singing hymns, they’re mainly in good heart and can’t see the fire. The lifeboats on the starboard side are lowered to embarkation level, ready in case we have to abandon.”
“I heard. For a moment I thought I had gone to heaven,” said Tom cheerfully, which elicited a slight laugh from the worried captain.
“We have the Sealion arriving in a couple of hours and if necessary we will transfer them.”
“With luck we will have the fire out well before then,” Tom assured him. “We have another tug on the way.”
Tom saw that the hoses leading through the loading door were thick, indicating water and foam were going through, so the divers were fighting the fire from aft.
“Captain, you must have foam.”
“Yes, in a tank.”
“Can we use it through your fire main?” asked Tom.
“I suppose so. I’ll ask the chief engineer. His men are okay.”
“If it is possible, please turn it on and I will use it, connecting my hoses to your fire main. Jesus, Alfredo,” Tom ordered, switching to company radio, “check where the nearest fire main connections are. The ship is going to run foam through it. Connect up once you see it running.”
“Okay, cap,” said Jesus.
“Divers attacking fire in accommodation,” reported Alfredo between coughs.
“You okay, Alfredo?” asked Tom, concerned.
“I am okay, cap.”
Tom returned to the Seahorse and up into the accommodation but could not reach the divers who were almost hidden by the foul smoke, the red glow of the fire ahead of them, the noise quite loud. They were progressing forward and with the forward party moving aft, Tom was hopeful they would have the fire out before the foam ran out.
“Fire in galley out,” reported Jesus on his radio. “We are moving into the cabins.”
Tom made his way back to the Sunda, passing Alfredo, who was coughing badly but insisted he was okay, and Miguel, who was supplying water to the firefighters. The electrician had already rigged some emergency lighting, making it much easier to move around. Back on his bridge, Tom could see the fire was much reduced and he was confident they would have it out shortly. He could see the navigation light of ships passing but they were keeping well clear. It was a fine night and the moon gave everything a ghostly glow, highlighting the smooth sea, so smooth it was reflecting like ice.
“Foam from ship,” reported Jesus on the company radio.
“Connect up some of our hoses, and you, Alfredo.”
“Okay, cap,” he coughed, his voice sounding harsh on the radio.
In the light of the searchlight, Tom could see how the white paintwork on the hull had been scorched and blistered by the fire, and in places the metal was bare, already rusting from the firefighting. The foam had all but gone on the hull, except where it had dried. A few figures, obviously passengers, had appeared on the boat deck, watching the action. Tom assumed they were younger ones, but was concerned about them, preferring them not to be there. The danger was that the bolder ones might eventually hinder his men or trip over a hose and injure themselves.
“Seahorse, captain, keep your people off the port boat deck,” said Tom, quite firmly, over the VHF. “I don’t want an accident.”
“Will do,” the captain replied.
It was not long before an excited Jesus came over the radio.
“Cap, fire is out,” he said.
“Well done,” congratulated Tom, his voice conveying some of his own excitement at their achievement. “Maintain a fire watch and keep the foam running until you are absolutely sure.”
“Alfredo!” called Tom.
“We have met with Jesus team and all cabin fires out,” he coughed, barely able to make himself understood.
“Alfredo, I am ordering you out of there, now!” said Tom, sharply. “Is Rene there?”
“Yes,” coughed Alfredo. Tom kicked himself for not ordering him out sooner, he was the only one seriously affected by the smoke.
“Give him the radio and tell him to bring you back here, now.”
“Okay, cap,” came Rene’s voice.
Something was seriously wrong with Alfredo and Tom was worried. He saw Pedro on the tow deck and running along the boat deck, the white hull of the Seahorse towering above him, illuminated by the tug’s deck lights.
“Pedro!” he shouted. “Help Alfredo back.”
Pedro waved his hand in acknowledgement and moved towards the loading door. Tom returned to the bridge and Ricky handed him a telex.
"Coselvenom departed Singapore with foam and Salvage Master, Singapore proceeding.” It was signed, DB.
“That is all I want, the Salvage Master after the fire is out.”
Tom remembered Jan’s words at the Kinos.
“He will be too late to do anything, won’t arrive until tomorrow morning,” he thought. He realised they had been at the location for only just over an hour, and had been lucky to have caught the fire before it had really taken hold as she was an old ship.
Tom saw Pedro and an AB help Rene bring Alfredo on board the tug across the black Yokohama fender and lay him out on the tow deck. Miguel appeared, gesticulating to get him into the accommodation.
“Well, thank heavens for our nurse,” thought Tom. Miguel had been busy, taking water to the firefighters, seemingly fearless of the fire.
“Fire definitely out,” reported Jesus on the radio.
Gonzales had left the bridge to take charge on deck, so it was just Ricky and Tom on the bridge and he was pleased to see the Radio Officer had kept a log of the company and VHF radio traffic, together with a brief note of the content. Tom rang down to the engine room and told them to turn off the fire pump.
“Seahorse,” Tom called on the VHF, “fire is out,” and gave the time.
“Well done, and thank you very much,” said a much relieved captain. “Are you coming on board?”
“Indeed, be with you shortly,” said Tom. “Get some of your people into the burnt out area and remove the debris, and bring fire extinguishers in case there is a flare up.”
“Very good,” agreed the relieved voice.
“Gonzales, get some fire extinguishers into the burnt out area and maintain a fire watch. I am going to see the Captain. Make sure the towing gear is ready, I am hoping to tow her,” said Tom into his radio.
Tom took the completed Lloyds Form. Ricky was efficient and had put it in a stout envelope, clipped to a board with a biro attached. Tom climbed on board the casualty, made his way through an unlit accommodation where only the emergency lighting was on, and found the captain sitting in his chair, looking exhausted under the wheelhouse light. He was a thin, elderly man with startlingly white hair, a narrow, drawn face and brown eyes. He was delighted to see Tom and when he stood to greet him, Tom realised he was a tall man, dressed in No 10’s tunic, long white trousers and white shoes. He shook Tom’s hand with both of his.
“I can’t thank you enough, you have really saved my bacon,” he said, his military bearing out of place with his hand-shaking, and Tom felt quite embarrassed.
“Your engine not fixed yet, captain?” Tom said.
“No, the chief says another couple of hours. My name is Captain Owen, but please, call me Charles.”
“Captain Tom Matravers,” said Tom. “I’d better tow you to Singapore, no point hanging around here. Gonzales,” he said into his radio, “get the slip-hook on board and make it fast up forward, we’re going to tow him to Singapore.”
“Okay, cap. Fire watch okay, ship’s crew clearing up. You will need to turn the tug, Cap.”
“I tell you what, Charles, we better regularise everything. If you sign here, it’s done,” said Tom, taking the LOF out of the envelope and clipping it onto the board, indicating where the Captain should sign with the biro.
Captain Owen signed with no comment. Tom was elated, even though the LOF was valid with the verbal agreement over the radio and logged by Ricky.
“The quicker I get him under tow, the better,” thought Tom.
“Ricky, telex Singapore, LOF signed,” Tom said into his radio.