A fiery explosion erupted on a container ship anchored in Dubai at one of the world's largest ports late Wednesday, sending tremors across the commercial hub of the United Arab Emirates, authorities said.
The blaze sent up giant orange flames on a vessel at the crucial Jebel Ali Port, the busiest in the Middle East, which sits on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula.
The combustion unleashed a shock wave through the city, shaking buildings and windows in neighbourhoods as far as 25 kilometres away from the port. Panicked residents filmed from their high-rises as a fiery ball illuminated the night sky.
There were no immediate reports of casualties at the port, which is also the busiest port of call for American warships outside of the U.S.
Some 2½ hours after the blast, 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 was visible in the background as civil defence crews worked to contain the fire.
The extent of damage caused to the sprawling 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 explosion suggested the presence of a highly combustible substance. A Dubai police commander told the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that the fire appeared to have started in one of the containers holding "flammable material," without elaborating.
Mona al-Marri, director general of Dubai Media Office, told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya TV that this incident "could happen anywhere in the world" and that the government's communication office worked to issue statements quickly to avert rumours from spreading as the cause of the fire is being investigated.
The Jebel Ali port in Dubai is one of the largest in the world and the largest in the Middle East. It serves cargo from the Indian subcontinent, Africa and Asia. The port is not only a critical global cargo hub, but a lifeline for Dubai and surrounding emirates, serving as the point of entry for essential imports
Dubai authorities did not identify the stricken ship beyond saying it was a small vessel with a capacity of 130 containers.
Ship tracker MarineTraffic showed a fleet of small support vessels surrounding a docked container ship called the Ocean Trader flagged in Comoros. Footage from the scene rebroadcast by the UAE's state-run WAM news agency showed firefighters hosing down a vessel bearing paint and logo that corresponds to the Ocean Trader, operated by the Dubai-based Inzu Ship Charter.
The Ocean Trader docked at Jebel Ali Port at midday Wednesday. Ship tracking data showed the vessel had been sailing up and down the coast of the UAE since April. The United Nations ship database identified the vessel's owners as Sash Shipping corporation. Sash and Inzu Ship Charter did not immediately respond to request for comment.
Jebel Ali Port authorities: We are taking all necessary measures to ensure the normal movement of ships in the port continues without any disruption
Operated by DP World, Jebel Ali has four sprawling container terminals that can berth some of the world's largest ships.
Port officials said they were "taking all necessary measures to ensure that the normal movement of vessels continues without any disruption."
DP World, the world's fourth largest port operator, describes the port as a "gateway hub" and a "vital link in the global trade network" that connects eastern and western markets. The company did not immediately issue any public statement on the blast.
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