The U.S. Coast Guard, with the help of good Samaritans aboard several commercial vessels, responded to a “significant” fire early this morning aboard the 650-foot Sincerity Ace, a Panamian-flagged car carrier, approximately 2,071 miles northwest of Oahu.
The Sincerity Ace was on a voyage from Japan to Hawaii when its captain reported the fire and an intent to abandon ship, the Coast Guard said. The crew was able to launch one of the life rafts, and four of the 21 mariners abandoned ship with lifejackets, officials said.
It was unconfirmed if they reached the life raft upon entering the water. The remaining 17 crew reportedly continued to fight the fire.
“The distance involved here requires any and all available support,” Petty Officer 1st Class Les Elliott of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Honolulu said in a news release. “We thank the crews of the commercial vessels for volunteering to assist and have Coast Guard air support en route.”
The joint rescue center received notification from Japan at 1:04 a.m. today, and immediately issued a SafetyNet broadcast requesting the assistance of vessels in the area and launched a HC-130 Hercules aircrew from Air Station Barbers Point.
A second HC-130 also was launched. Both Hercules were equipped with marker buoys to track positions and life rafts and survival gear that could be dropped in the water.
The Coast Guard response came with the government shutdown ongoing since Dec. 22. However, the Coast Guard — the only military service working without pay because it’s part of the Department of Homeland Security and not the Defense Department — received a temporary reprieve on Friday.
The Coast Guard announced that the Trump administration “identified a way” to make a one-time payment on New Year’s Eve to 42,000 active duty service members.
The Washington Examiner reported that unused Coast Guard funding was being tapped to make the $75 million payroll.
“This approval only covers the Dec. 31, 2018 paycheck,” the Coast Guard said. “It does not guarantee a paycheck on Jan. 15, 2019.”
Other commercial ships helped with the fire on the Sincerity Ace today. The Green Lake, a 655-foot, U.S.-flagged car carrier traveling from Japan to the U.S. mainland, was on scene and assessing possible assistance and rescue options. A Panamanian-flagged LNG tanker, the 968-foot SM Eagle, a car carrier, was en route. The U.S. Navy was also providing a fixed-wing aircraft to assist in search efforts.
While no injuries were reported, according to Elliott, the Coast Guard was aware that a lot was happening and said the situation could change at any time.
Weather conditions in the area were reported as 17-foot seas and 26-mile-per-hour winds.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporter William Cole contributed to this report.