UK MAIB interim investigation report – Explosion and fire on chemical tanker Stolt Groenland


( On 17 August 2019, Stolt Groenland, a Cayman Islands registered chemical/ products tanker operated by Stolt Tankers B.V. sailed from Houston, USA for passage to Kobe, Japan via the Panama Canal. The tanker was carrying 20 different chemical cargoes in 37 of its 39 cargo tanks. After discharging four cargo tanks of Kobe on 23 September and six cargo tanks at the Odfjell Terminal in Ulsan, Republic of Korea, between 26 and 27 September, Stolt Groenland moored alongside the Yeompo Quay in Ulsan.

Two further cargo tanks were then discharged via a ship to ship transfer with Stolt Voyager. On completion, Stolt Voyager moored ahead of Stolt Groenland. At about 0600 on 28 September, the Singapore registered chemical/products tanker Bow Dalian secured alongside Stolt Groenland’s port side. The purging of Bow Dalian’s cargo tanks with nitrogen supplied from shoreside vehicles was then commenced in readiness for a ship-to-ship cargo transfer with Stolt Groenland.

At 1043, vapour started to release from the pressure vacuum valve for Stolt Groenland’s number 9 starboard (9S) cargo tank, which contained styrene monomer. About 2 minutes later, a high-level alarm indicated that the level in 9S cargo tank had reached 95%, soon followed by a high-high-level alarm indicating that the level had increased to 98%.

By now, Stolt Groenland’s on-watch deck officer and chief officer had made their way to the cargo control room and they saw from the cargo monitoring system that the pressure inside 9S cargo tank was rapidly
rising. Suddenly, at 1050, two explosions were seen and heard in rapid succession in way of the tanker’s cargo manifold. The resulting fireball passed very close to a road bridge above the quay.

Stolt Groenland’s and Bow Dalian’s crews immediately operated and directed foam monitors towards the respective cargo manifolds. Bow Dalian’s cargo manifold drench system was also activated. The fire on board Stolt Groenland was very intense and large plumes of thick black smoke were emitted. Stolt Groenland’s crew evacuated using the free-fall lifeboat at the stern while Bow Dalian’s crew were taken of by Korean Coastguard boats that had arrived at the scene.

The fire was fought from the shore and from the water and lasted until early the following morning. The damage in way of Stolt Groenland’s cargo manifold and accommodation block was extensive. The following persons were injured: Stolt Groenland’s gangway watchkeeper, who was blown over the guardrails by the force of the explosion; a deck rating on board Bow Dalian; and, a number of shore workers, including firefighters and police during the emergency response.

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Source: UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB)

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