Two firefighters have died while working to extinguish a raging fire aboard a cargo ship that was docked at Port Newark in New Jersey on Wednesday, the authorities said.
The firefighters “made an attempt to extinguish the fire and, because of the intense heat, they got pushed back out of the area where the initial fire was,” Chief Rufus Jackson of the Newark Fire Department said in a news conference early Thursday.
The firefighters were not immediately identified.
“This was a tragedy, and my heart goes out to the family of each of these members and also the Newark fire department,” Chief Jackson said. “We’re going to continue to work, and we’re going to continue to pray for the family of the two members who were lost tonight.”
Port Authority police officers responded after 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday to a fire on a ship that was docked at Port Newark in New Jersey, said Lenis Valens, a spokeswoman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
Mayor Ras Baraka of Newark said at a news conference that several fire companies responded to the scene. The New York Fire Department said several of its units responded after midnight, and the United States Coast Guard said on Twitter that it was also responding to the fire.
The Coast Guard identified the vessel as a vehicle cargo ship, and Mr. Baraka said there were about 5,000 vehicles on board.
“Shipboard firefighting is a unique skill, and this is not a common fire for the city of Newark and the Newark firefighters,” Chief Jackson said. “This is a tragedy. This is something as a chief I never want to face.”
Chief Jackson said that emergency responders found the blaze on the 10th floor of the ship, where five to seven vehicles were on fire, and that the flames quickly extended to the 11th and 12th floors.
Representatives for the Newark Department of Public Safety, the Newark Fire Division and the U.S. Coast Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“The fire is still happening now, as a matter of fact,” Mr. Baraka said during the news conference early Thursday. “We still have agencies and guys inside now still trying to put this fire out in this boat.”
“I saw the kinds of acts of bravery and camaraderie today that’s unparalleled,” he said. “It’s very, very traumatic for all of us in the city of Newark.
An Italian company, the Grimaldi Group, confirmed early Thursday that it owns the ship that caught fire in Newark. It did not say how the fire had started or what was on the ship at the time. Grimaldi is based in Naples and has 130 vessels and 17,000 employees, according to its website. The company describes itself as Italy’s largest ship-owning group.
Last year, a Grimaldi-owned ferry caught fire off the Greek island of Corfu on its way to Italy, killing 11 people. Hundreds of others were rescued.
Port Newark Container Terminal, as the port is officially called, is 272 acres, or about a third the size of Central Park in Manhattan. In January 2022, a fire at a scrap metal recycling facility there produced smoke that wafted through Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The ports in New Jersey and neighboring New York State are owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.
As of last year, the Port of New York and New Jersey was the second-largest container port by cargo volume in the United States — just behind the Port of Los Angeles and slightly ahead of the Port of Long Beach, also in California, according to Port Authority figures.
Of the $271 billion worth of goods that moved through Port of New York and New Jersey in 2022, furniture was the top commodity import; vehicles and their parts were the top export.
Elisabetta Povoledo contributed reporting.