Toxic gas from shipwreck confirmed as killer of Vietnamese divers

TN News

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Two salvage workers try to fish out divers poisoned by toxic gas coming from the tank of a Malaysian shipwreck June 18. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre

A high concentration of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), a poisonous gas, has been identified as the killer of four Vietnamese divers who died trying to tow a Malaysian shipwreck ashore on June 18.

Authorities from the central province of Thua Thien-Hue said at a press briefing Saturday that the divers were killed by the colorless gas in the ballast tank of the Onnekas One while fixing a jammed pipe they were using to pump water from the vessel.

Nguyen Viet Hung from the province Department of Natural Resources and Environment said tests on gas samples taken from the tank found that the H2S concentration was 103 times higher than what is considered a safe level, according to Vietnam's standards.

It remains unclear where the gas came from, as news website Dan Tri reported that one of the victims had entered the ship the day before and nothing happened to him.

Vo Van Thuan, 38, was first to die in the tank at the bow of the Onnekas One, while Van Cong Thang, 33, Phan Van Manh, 39, and Phan Van Hiep, 19, all gradually met the same fate as they tried to save each other.

The four victims were employees of the Ben Luc Salvage Company in the Mekong Delta province of Long An.

Four others who tried to save them were also poisoned and had to be rushed to the hospital, but were able to recover.

None of the divers wore protective outfits.

Local environment officials have also taken water samples from the tank for testing.

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The Onnekas One, which weighs more than 3,000 tons, became stuck off the coast of Thua Thien-Hue last December while being towed to China to repair damage it sustained in a fire.

Its bow and stern were severed and have been drifting in different directions ever since the wire connecting it to the tugboat snapped due to rough seas.

Shipmate, the Singapore firm which owns the boat, hired the Saigon Shipbuilding and Marine Industry Company to help, which in turn hired Ben Luc Salvage.

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